Editorial: Judge is right on Toner Trust
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is a familiar saying.
It refers to the idea of meeting one obligation at the expense of something else. Pay your light bill by putting off a credit card payment. Buy gas with the grocery money. Use the Christmas savings to take care of the taxes.
It’s usually a shuffle — a way to stretch the resources to get the job done. It doesn’t usually refer to an actual theft.
So that’s why it’s appropriate that Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O’Toole issued an order that stopped the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh from plundering an $8 million trust fund meant to help kids in need.
The Toner Trust was left to the diocese 120 years ago by Westmoreland County farmer and politician James L. Toner. The purpose was to establish an industrial school for boys, and the Toner Institute operated until 1977. Since then, it has been put to work to support diocesan programs that help kids.
But church attorneys went to court in April asking to utilize the money to pay settlements for clergy abuse.
O’Toole was right to say no.
The practice, if not the language, of robbing Peter to pay Paul generally suggests that Peter will receive restitution at some point — that eventually, Paul will be robbed to pay Peter.
Using the Toner Trust to fund settlements with victims of decades of child sexual abuse wouldn’t do that. It would pay a blood debt with a child’s piggy bank. It would compensate those who were assaulted by stealing the programs that would help those in need. It literally and figuratively would loot the poor box.
How do any of the many dioceses who find themselves in this position get out if it isn’t through financial deck-shuffling? Good question. But whether it’s holding a bingo game or opening a lemonade stand, the solution has to be something other than pirating from programs for kids.
The diocese can’t rob today’s children to pay yesterday’s victims. It doesn’t work like that.