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The 11 parishes and five schools in York County that fall under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg should not be affected directly by the organization’s recent bankruptcy.

The diocese says the parishes and schools are safe because they are separate legal entities. 

The Harrisburg diocese, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Wednesday, has not announced plans to close any schools or churches.

It serves approximately 230,000 Catholics in 89 parishes in 15 counties, according to its website.

The Rev. Mark Weiss read a 1½-page letter from Bishop Ronald Gainer during his 5 p.m. Mass Saturday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Dallastown. 

The bishop’s letter was included in each bulletin.

“I want to assure you as your pastor that your Sunday contributions will continue to go to our parish,” Weiss later told his congregation.

But, he also conceded, “there’s a lot of unknowns right now in the diocese.”

Several people who attended the Mass at St. Joseph declined to comment on the diocese’s bankruptcy filing and how it might affect their parish.

“When I think about our current situation and the future, I cannot help but think about what it will take to rebuild and strengthen our diocese as we move forward,” Gainer said in the letter. “You cannot build anything without a strong and solid foundation.

“Our diocese currently lacks that strong foundation. However, at the end of this difficult process, we will again have a solid foundation to build upon.”

Since 2004, 20 Catholic dioceses throughout the country have filed for bankruptcy protection, according to the website BishopAccountability.org.

But Harrisburg is the first diocese in Pennsylvania to seek bankruptcy protection.

“We might be the first, but we won’t be the last,” Weiss told his congregation. “There will be more.”

The filing came just months after the organization said it paid more than $12 million to over 100 victims sexually abused by clergy as children.

And it was nearly two years after a grand jury report revealed hundreds of priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

The real number may have been much higher, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said at the time.

The grand jury report said 45 clergymen were in the Harrisburg diocese during the reports of alleged abuse, The Associated Press reported.

The diocese had previously released a list of 72 clergymen accused of abuse. More than a dozen of those listed were assigned to York County at some point.

Matthew H. Haverstick, a lawyer for the diocese, said at a news conference Wednesday the organization still is facing an estimated 200 outstanding claims and that number could have escalated after a state court ruling last year permitted victims to bring additional decades-old claims.

For now, the bankruptcy filing stops all action on civil suits filed against the diocese and pushes all claims to the bankruptcy proceeding.

“As bishop, I must ensure the diocese's core mission is upheld, which is to remain focused on Christ's mandate to preach, teach, sanctify and to serve those in need," Gainer said in the letter.

"We must work to bring the Chapter 11 process to a conclusion, as soon as is reasonably possible and in a way that allows us to be present to the community, as we have been for the past 152 years."

The diocese had its first bankruptcy hearing Friday. A major discussion revolved around the $150 million the diocese has in various accounts and trusts that it said belongs to entities such as the schools, churches and charitable organizations.

Bankruptcy Judge Henry Van Eck ultimately will decide the financial responsibility of the diocese.

The Harrisburg diocese claimed $181 million in total assets, including properties valued at $20.4 million, in its most recent  financial audit in 2018.

In court documents filed last week, the diocese said it has liabilities between $50 million and $100 million, with assets of less than $10 million. 

The diocese said it is hopeful it won’t have to sell or use parish property to pay its debts. 

At St. Joseph in Springettsbury Township, the school and church continue to operate as normal. They have not been directly affected by the Harrisburg diocese’s bankruptcy filing.

“That includes all donations, tuition and scholarships made to St. Joseph School previously and in the future,” Principal Corrinne Eck said.

She said in a release the school is currently enrolling students for the 2020-2021 school year.

“We will remain thoughtful stewards of our resources to continue to serve the York community,” Eck said.

— Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @ronmusselman8.

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