By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia will no longer take applications for a small program that pays the Catholic school tuition of children of victims of sexual abuse by priests, saying that the money could be used to benefit victims directly.
The 13 children who rely on the program, which has cost the archdiocese $272,000 in its eight years of existence, will continue to receive their benefits but no new students will be taken into the program, church officials said.
Kevin Gavin, the spokesman for the archdiocese, said the church will continue other forms of assistance to victims, including transportation and child care expenses associated with attending counseling.
"The Archdiocese regrets any distress that the change of course in action may have caused individuals and their families," Gavin said in a statement. "It also remains steadfast in its commitment to protecting children, preventing child abuse and supporting victims in a manner that will effectively contribute to their personal healing and spiritual welfare."
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has been hit with a series of abuse accusations and scandals during the past two decades, starting with a series of abuse cases uncovered in Boston in 1992. The scandals have cost the U.S. church about $3 billion in settlements and driven some prominent dioceses into bankruptcy.
Tuition at Catholic schools in the city ranges from about $3,500 for elementary school students and $6,150 for high school.
It is unclear if other U.S. dioceses have similar tuition-relief programs.
"I don't recall any other diocese saying they do this," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group.
While many victims would be too suspicious of the church to send their children to Catholic schools, others might need the financial assistance, Clohessy said.
"A great many victims of clergy sex crimes are unemployed and underemployed or on the margins financially," Clohessy said. "Even if they had a justifiable mistrust, they'd still be tempted to take the help."
(Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)