ERIE – Citing economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Diocese of Erie has suspended payments from its fund for clergy abuse victims.

“As a result of the economic turmoil caused by the onset of COVID-19, the Diocese of Erie has temporarily suspended its work with the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program effective March 20, 2020,” the diocese stated in a press release. “The suspension will last at least 90 days.”

The move will affect approximately 40 remaining claimants whose requests have yet to be determined, the diocese said.

All claimants who have accepted settlements have already been paid. The diocese also will pay victims with pending payments. 

People with claims affected by the temporary suspension will be notified when the fund resumes processing claims.

An official from the diocese said it would not provide additional information about the suspension.

Adam Horowitz, of the Horowitz Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said the Diocese of Erie and its bishop, The Most Rev. Lawrence T. Persico, should have taken steps to ensure that the fund would be preserved and claimants paid.

“Back in August 2019, more than six months ago, the Diocese of Erie knew exactly how many sexual abuse victims wanted to participate in the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Process.”

Horowitz said the firm has represented clergy abuse victims from across the United States over several decades, and received notification of the Erie Diocese’s payment suspensions. 

Horowitz said he was skeptical of the diocese’s claims that economic impact from COVID-19, including an accompanying stock downturn, is depleting the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Fund. 

“We have closely observed the actions and inactions of hundreds of Catholic officials,” Horowitz said. “Unless and until the Diocese of Erie completely ‘comes clean’ with its finances, we refuse to believe Bishop Persico and his diocese have suddenly encountered insurmountable financial obstacles.”

NOTE: This article was edited March 26 to remove a reference to the Erie Diocese's bankruptcy declaration. The diocese has not declared bankruptcy.