HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Survivors of clergy sex abuse are disputing the Diocese of Harrisburg’s claims that filing bankruptcy was a necessary move.
The Fortney sisters, however, believe seeking Chapter 11 relief is an attempt at a cover-up to prevent survivors from getting the answers they need.
Patty Fortney-Julius said it’s never been about the money.
“[The diocese] makes this all about the money because if we keep talking about the money, it confuses their laity, their parishioners,” Fortney-Julius said.
For the Fortney sisters — five of whom were abused by a diocese priest — the ‘discovery’ process of their civil claims is what matters, and having the chance to unseal documents from diocesan archives.
“It’s part of our healing. I mean, we need to know why did this happen to us,” Fortney-Julius asked.
The bankruptcy filing has halted the discovery process, meaning finding answers to how and why Priest Augustine Giella was able to abuse five of the Fortney sisters, becomes much more difficult.
“They have always over the years found a way to put victims last,” Saundra Forney-Colello said.
Saundra wasn’t abused, but her daughter and five sisters were, including Patty.
“People don’t realize how this devastates the whole family,” Fortney-Colello said. “It changes the dynamic for everything that you do, how you interact with each other. For the longest time, we couldn’t talk about what was going on, the distance, there was always a big elephant in the room that nobody could talk about.”
They think bankruptcy is being used to prevent more information from coming to light and isn’t about finances at all.
“We know this much about the secrets of the Harrisburg diocese,” Fortney-Julius said, gesturing. “When it’s all out, they’re really gonna have to face their Catholic community.”
“They’re buying time to get their house in order for a cover-up, not to do the right thing,” Fortney-Colello said.
“Maybe a better way of saying it, is trying to limit what they are gonna pay out,” said bankruptcy attorney, Wade Parker. “Something is culminating where if they don’t deal with it, then the Diocese might not be able to operate. It’s a way that a company can restructure and repay their debts and become viable or operational on the other side so they can continue to do business.”
Parker said the Diocese won’t be able to wash claims away, and will have to file a plan of reorganization.
“If you don’t clear it all out, open the archives, give the survivors their day in court, you’re building it all back on sand,” said Fortney-Colello.
“The word of God talks about the flock, and it says that the shepherd will leave the 99 to save one….am I one?!” asked Fortney-Julius, referring to Bishop Gainer as the shepherd.
There is a hearing set for Friday morning where Parker said the Diocese is expected to ask for an extension to file documents that contain more concrete information, things like specific assets, income, and expenses. There may also be a motion to have some information in the bankruptcy proceedings sealed.