Clergy sex abuse survivor reacts to Diocese of Harrisburg compensation program offer

HARRISBURG, Pa. --- On Tuesday, a spokesperson with the Diocese of Harrisburg said administrators for its Survivor Compensation Program have made offers to all participating survivors.

As of now, no payments have been made.

"The Diocese and Bishop Gainer continue to offer our profound sorrow, prayers and assistance to all survivors of clergy abuse,” said spokesperson Rachel Bryson.

A survivor anonymously told FOX43 his story of abuse at the hands of a former Diocese of Harrisburg priest, Herbert Shank, last year.

He said he received his offer at the beginning of this week and is now weighing his options.

“They call it compensation. I’m not sure you are ever able to compensate someone for the abuse that happened to myself and to all the people that are survivors," said the survivor, who remains anonymous.

The Survivor Compensation Program was set up by the Diocese of Harrisburg in February as a response to the Grand Jury Report on child sex abuse within six Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania in an attempt to make financial amends to victims.

Our source explains he and his group of attorneys submitted information regarding the abuse from Shank.

He said that led to a roughly 20 minute hearing in front of mediators from Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation, Inc.

Without Diocese of Harrisburg officials present at the hearing, he said he felt the process lacked compassion or empathy.

"Very much a controlled, contrived risk analysis.”

He said he now has within a month to accept or deny the one-time offer.

Believing, personally, that statute of limitation and judicial reforms are a matter of "when not if" in Pennsylvania, he said he has a lot to think about.

“I don’t know how that the payoff amount that the compensation fund has given me would ever make me feel vindicated that I did all I could to prevent him or any of the other abusers from abusing boys and girls going forward. I don’t know, um, what that dollar amount is but I’m not sure it’s the one I just received," said the survivor.

Ben Andreozzi, a sexual abuse attorney, said he represents a little more than a dozen survivors who are participating in the Diocese of Harrisburg compensation program.

He said the emotions from his clients have been a "mix of emotions."

He explained that some are refusing to agree to the offer, while others feel they need to accept it to feel some sense of closure.

He believes the majority of clients will end up accepting the officers.

“Which is, to a certain extent, unfortunate because it means that they never got their day of justice in front of a jury of their peers, never got answers to a bunch of the questions that they had, meaning what did the diocese know about my abuse? How could it have been prevented?” Andreozzi said.

Andreozzi said the mediators are looking at a number of factors when compiling an offer:

  • The nature of the abuse
  • Number of times a person was abused
  • Who the perpetrator was
  • Available documentation regarding complications suffered as a result of the abuse
  • When the abuse happened
  • What the Diocese of Harrisburg knew, for example if they identified the abuser as a perpetrator

He explained that if a survivor accepts the compensation offers, there is no confidentiality involved but the survivor cannot sue the Diocese of Harrisburg in the future.

Andreozzi said he wishes Diocese officials were present in the hearings to allow survivors to seek answers to what he called "non-economic concerns" in a controlled environment.

"If there would’ve been an opportunity for us to ask those questions and get those answers, I think it would’ve given many more of these people a more complete sense of justice,” said Andreozzi.

Andreozzi also said the amount of money set aside for the Diocese of Harrisburg compensation program is "noticeably" lower compared to other cities and larger Dioceses.

He said the average payout for compensation programs in places such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York have been between $50,000-$500,000.

He said those averages are "considerably" lower for the Diocese of Harrisburg, more comparable to rural New York areas.

He said he didn't know if that is a concerted effort by the Diocese of Harrisburg or if they do not have the same available funding.

Andreozzi pointed to the lack of a retroactive window in the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania, which he believes does not "force" the insurance companies to come to the table and "sweeten the pot" to avoid litigation costs.

He also said it's unique the offers all came in "at the same time" as opposed to trickling in.

The anonymous survivor said the decision to accept or deny the offer depends on the survivor's personal situation.

He said he acknowledges everyone's walk of life is unique.

“If the amount of money they were given as a payoff makes their lives better, if it effects their lives in a positive way and they can move on and move past this and they feel satisfied and vindicated in some fashion, then I think thats a decision that each one of these survivors, victims of abuse are going to have to make on their own," said the survivor.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Harrisburg told FOX43 News Wednesday they are open to hearing feedback from survivors regarding the compensation program process.

He said survivors can contact the Diocese of Harrisburg, directly.

The spokesperson said they want to know ways to improve the program, should they decide to do another round of offers.

Diocese of Harrisburg officials say they have not received final information or statistics regarding the program yet, saying everything to this point has been between the survivors and the mediators.

Andreozzi said a concern among survivors is, according to him, no confirmation on whether or not they will lose medical payments, such as therapy, if they accept the offer.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Harrisburg said they have been "upfront" about continuing coverage for therapy "regardless of whether they settle or not."

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