Pittsburgh Diocesan Lawyer Raises Possibility of Using Needy Children’s Fund to Pay Sexual Abuse Settlements

An attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh raised the prospect of bankruptcy in a court hearing Friday over whether the church can use a trust fund for needy children, worth more than $8 million, toward compensating victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Attorney Robert Ridge said during a hearing in Allegheny County Orphans Court that the diocese is looking at every available funding source to go toward a compensation fund for victims.

He told Orphans Court Administrative Judge Lawrence O’Toole that the diocese was asking for a determination now on whether the trust fund could be used because, if the diocese does need to file in bankruptcy court, the same question will come up there.

The hearing came in response to a challenge by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office over a petition by the diocesan-affiliated Catholic Institute of Pittsburgh to use the fund.

The diocese has said that, under the spirit of the fund’s purpose, it could be used to compensate adults who suffered sexual abuse as children by priests. And Mr. Ridge said the 1899 will of James L. Toner, whose bequest to the church got the fund started, never restricted the funds to just needy children.

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