HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It is a monumental day for survivors of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.

A historic agreement will settle the Diocese of Harrisburg’s bankruptcy case, helping pay survivors of past abuse and creating safeguards to stop it from happening in the future.

Survivors of clergy sexual abuse within the Diocese of Harrisburg are now one step closer to getting compensation after a bankruptcy court confirmed the Diocese of Harrisburg’s plan of reorganization.

Back in August 2022, the Diocese of Harrisburg reached a settlement with clergy sexual abuse survivors. Then, in November, the diocese submitted to pay survivors $18.25 million. However, before that could happen, a judge still had to give the final signature on the plan.

Funds from the settlement would be transferred to an independent survivor compensation trust to pay out the survivor’s claims. The settlement agreement is part of an overall reorganization plan to resolve the diocese’s bankruptcy case, which they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Feb. 2020.

There is also more to the settlement, and that is new protocols designed to prevent the potential for future abuse. The group representing the abuse victims calls the new protection measures the most throughout and advances protocols ever negotiated.

A survivor spoke in the courtroom today, he was very emotional saying that he hopes this provides some comfort to survivors and also thanks Bishop Gainer for being serious about preventing future abuse.

The Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg, offered the following statement on the completion of this process:

“Three years ago, I announced that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections. That difficult decision was made as a means of stabilizing the Diocese’s financial situation, while at the same time allowing us to make restitution to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and continue our ministries. 

“This morning, myself and our legal counsel attended a hearing at the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, presided over by the Honorable Henry W. Van Eck. During this hearing, the Joint Plan of Reorganization for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg was confirmed. This confirmation brings our reorganization process, which started on February 19, 2020, to a conclusion.

“This was a difficult, emotional process for many, most especially the abuse survivors who served on the Tort Claimants Committee and those that aided them in their duties. I particularly wish to express my gratitude and appreciation to these survivors; you represented all survivors who presented a claim during this process and the difficult work you completed was vital in achieving a resolution. While it is my prayer that the Trust established through this process will bring some level of restitution for the abuse each survivor has endured, I acknowledge that no amount of money will ever make reparations for these horrific and sinful acts.

“As you will read in the pages of the Plan, the Diocese recognizes and is fully committed to addressing the horrors of clergy abuse. In addition to establishing the Trust, we will continue to offer mental, spiritual and pastoral counseling to survivors, if they so desire. We will work tirelessly so all survivors know that the Church cares for them. Our foremost concern will be their emotional and spiritual welfare and we will continue to offer survivors immediate, loving and compassionate care. Through our new Youth Protection protocols, which enhance our current policies, we will increase our educational efforts on recognizing potential child abuse and coming together, as one Catholic community, to support those that have been harmed by members of the Church.

“I will never be able to adequately express my deep sorrow for the pain these survivors have endured. All I can say is how profoundly sorry I am and I pray that our actions will demonstrate our commitment to supporting you in your path to healing. 

“When this process started, I know that it was very difficult for our clergy and the faithful as well. There was a lot of uncertainty about the future. But our clergy and the faithful responded to the reorganization with grace and an understanding that this path was the only path forward at that time. It’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am to our clergy and staff, and most especially to the Catholic faithful. Each of you supported and assisted our Diocese through this difficult process and played a part in helping us to secure a more stable financial future.

“Three years ago, I said our goals were to stabilize our financial situation and provide just and fair compensation to survivors of clergy abuse, while continuing to maintain our charitable, spiritual and educational ministries. Now, as our Diocese enters this new chapter, I believe we have reached these goals.

“As we institute the agreements detailed in our Plan in the coming months, know that we will continue to remain vigilant in protecting all children, young people and vulnerable adults in our care. The road ahead may not always be easy, but through our faith in Christ and by working together, I have faith the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg has a bright future.”

Survivors should be seeing the money in about 90 days, which is around the month of May.

More than 60 claims were made by clergy abuse survivors during the reorganization process and may be eligible for compensation, according to the diocese.

Abuse survivors will have their claims assigned to the Survivor Compensation Trust. A Trust administrator, and not the RCDH, will determine compensation amounts and claim eligibility.