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PA Catholic Church Dioceses Pay Out Nearly $84 Million to Sexual Abuse Victims in 2019

In Pennsylvania, 564 sexual abuse victims received settlements totaling nearly $84 million from the Catholic Church’s dioceses in the state.

The settlements are being distributed from victims' compensation funds set up by 7 of Pennsylvania's 8 dioceses. The funds were established after a grand jury released a 1,400-page report in 2018 that detailed Catholic Church child sexual abuse incidents and subsequent cover-ups that occurred in the state.

Hundreds of Priests Accused of Sexually Abusing Children

According to the grand jury report, since the 1940s, over 1,000 children were molested by hundreds of Catholic Church priests. Because of the time since the deplorable acts occurred, the statute of limitations for pursuing criminal action against the perpetrators had passed. Additionally, when victims were finally ready to move forward and hold their abusers accountable, many were time-barred from initiating civil action.

The report also detailed the lengths the Catholic churches went through to cover-up the sexual abuse allegations. For instance, language such as "inappropriate contact" was used instead of "rape." Additionally, investigations into sexual abuse claims were carried out by colleagues of the accused, and the questions asked during the examinations were considered inadequate.

Over 1,000 Claims Submitted for Victims’ Compensation

As a result of the grand jury’s report, the participating dioceses gave victims until September of this year to submit claims for compensation. They received 1,500 claims, and two of the compensation funds administrators have reviewed 500 claims. Of those, 391 victims accepted settlements, and 41 were rejected for lack of evidence.

Although the dioceses have already paid out around $84 million, the amount is expected to rise substantially in 2020. The administrators still have 1,000 claims to review and believe they won't be able to get through them all until June of next year.

The victims' compensation funds are independently administered, but each diocese sets its own regulations on how the matters are handled. Therefore, the payouts victims receive vary. In five of the eight dioceses, the average compensation is around $169,000. In the remaining two, the average payouts are about $82,000 and $114,000 per victim. Although the money can't erase the victims' experiences, it can help them get a sense of closure and a fresh start.

However, some have said that the compensation funds are another way for the Catholic churches to avoid facing any real penalties. By settling with victims, the churches do not have to go to court and have the public hear about the instances of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy. Additionally, the dioceses are paying out less than they would have had juries decided the cases.

Currently, lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering whether or not to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to allow a longer time for them to pursue civil suits against their abusers.

If you or a loved one suffered abuse by a member of the Catholic clergy in Washington, DC, reach out to Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. for dedicated legal guidance to initiate a claim. Call us at (202) 644-8303 or contact us online.