Editorial: Church lawsuits will look for someone to pay for pain

September 23, 2018

And thus, it begins.

Two weeks after the release of the grand jury report that detailed horrific abuses by priests across Pennsylvania, and the arguably more horrific obfuscation of those crimes by church leaders, a lawsuit has been filed.

The suits were inevitable. The suits are, no doubt, highly warranted. And for some, the suits may be met with raised eyebrows and sidelong looks. Is this person a victim? Or is this about a payday?

In Boston, after all, the Catholic church paid out about $85 million to 500 claimants between 2002 and 2012. That came to an average of $170,000 apiece.

The Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal dwarfed that in cash with far fewer checks written. At least 34 claimants received a total of more than $109 million from Penn State.

Because of the decades of camouflage, almost all of the cases are finally coming to light outside of the statute of limitations. The priests may be dead. So are some of the bishops who helmed the dioceses. The opportunities for criminal justice are gone.

The only chance left for someone to pay is for literal payment.

An additional tragedy, however, is that the money will not come from the estates of men who took a vow of poverty, or from the personal coffers of the bishops or cardinals who participated in the outrage. No, it would come from the church.

And by coming from the church, that means the victims will be repaid in the coins a second-grader scraped together to put in his envelope so he could give his very own donation to the collection plate. It will come from the great-grandmother who never misses Mass and sticks dollar bills in the box when she lights a candle to pray for grace.

It will come, doubtlessly, from the devout families whose children were victimized, even while their parents continued to worship, give and support.

The new suit, naming Bishop David Zubik and Cardinal Donald Wuerl in addition to the Pittsburgh diocese, will almost certainly not be the last.

The question is, has the church’s support scraped the bottom of the offertory basket?

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