By May 31, 2020, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia paid more than $50.5 million to settle clergy abuse claims. The settlements were part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP). The $50.5 million compensated more than 200 sex abuse victims.
This payout compensated victims who filed a claim with the IRRP before September 30, 2019. Victims whose cases were past the statute of limitations were allowed to file a claim through the program. Thus, the IRRP gave victims of sexual abuse an additional compensation option.
Although the IRRP filing deadline has passed, victims of child sexual abuse by priests have until their 30th birthday to file a civil claim in Pennsylvania.
Archdiocese Of Philadelphia Clergy Abuse
Before the IRRP was established, two Grand Jury Reports shocked members of the Philadelphia Catholic community.
2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report
The 2005 Grand Jury Report identified and documented 63 priests who committed crimes of sexual abuse and misconduct with minors. The abuse spanned several decades in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Apart from the actual abuse, the report highlighted the role high-level officials played in the abuse scandal and its coverup:
- The archdiocese knew about the abuse and ignored the incidents.
- The archdiocese did not conduct legitimate investigations of the reported abuses.
- Abusive priests were transferred to other churches. Their crimes were not disclosed to the new parishioners.
- Law enforcement, parishioners and, in some cases, parents were not notified about the sexual abuse.
2011 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report
In 2011, a second Grand Jury Report found credible accusations of sex abuse against 37 priests still working for the archdiocese. This second report revealed additional problems within the archdiocese.
Monsignor William Lynn was named in this second report. Lynn was the first senior church official charged with covering up sex abuse allegations in the United States. Most recently, his retrial was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
In light of these reports and other information, the Philadelphia Archdiocese IRRP was started in November 2018 to compensate victims of church sex abuse. An Independent Oversight Committee runs the IRRP operations. This committee ensures the archdiocese has no control over the distribution of funds.
The IRRP oversight committee consists of three members:
- Judge George J. Mitchell, a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader
- Kelley Hodge, a former Interim District Attorney for Philadelphia City and County
- Judge Lawrence F. Stengel, a former Chief Judge for a district court
There is no monetary cap on how much victims may receive through the program. However, to participate in the program, victims were required to register by the September 30, 2019 deadline. Victims who missed the deadline can no longer file a claim through the compensation program.
How The IRRP Affects Victims
At first glance, the IRRP may seem like a goodwill solution to compensate victims. However, there are distinct legal advantages and disadvantages of the program.
Philadelphia Archdiocese IRRP Advantages
The review process for the IRRP may be quicker than civil litigation. Thus, victims may receive compensation faster. Victims are not required to accept the initial IRRP settlement offer.
For many victims with legally expired claims, the IRRP is one of the better compensation options. The IRRP does not preclude expired cases based on the Pennsylvania statute of limitations for child sexual claims.
There is currently no legislation in Pennsylvania that retroactively revives expired claims. However, state lawmakers are considering legislation to open a “look back” window. Such legislation has been signed into law in states such as New York or New Jersey.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (criminal charges versus a civil claim).
Philadelphia Archdiocese IRRP Disadvantages
Victims who accept IRRP money cannot file a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in the future.
Sex abuse victims may receive less money from compensation funds than through settlements or jury trial awards.
Pennsylvania Dioceses Compensation Funds
The archdiocese is one of eight Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania. Six of the remaining seven dioceses are offering a compensation program similar to the IRRP. Each program has individual eligibility requirements.
By December 2019, these programs paid roughly $84 million to 564 victims of sexual abuse. According to reports, the average payout is $148,000 per claim across the seven dioceses.
A Third Of The IRRP Claims Have Been Paid
As of May 31, 2020, at least 616 claims were filed with the IRRP. 250 of these cases were deemed eligible, and 222 claims have been paid. Overall, the IRRP has approved $50,585,000 in total payments to victims.
In a letter dated May 5, 2020, Archbishop Perez stated that the church estimates the total cost of IRRP compensation to move closer to $130 million.
Although the IRRP compensation deadline has passed, clergy victims whose cases have not expired can still file a civil lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, a child sex abuse victim may file a civil claim until he or she reaches 30 years of age.
Archdiocese of Philadelphia Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (“IRRP”). (N.D.) Home.
Brubaker, H. (2020, May 5). Philly archdiocese expects to pay $126 million in priest sex-abuse reparations. The Philadelphia Inquirer.
County Investigating Grand Jury. (2005, September 15). Report of the Grand Jury.
Oversight Committee of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program. (2020, June). Third Interim Report.
Reverend Nelson J. Pérez, D.D. (2020, May 5). Letter from the Archbishop [PDF]. Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Rubinkam, M. (2019, December 26). Pennsylvania dioceses offer $84M to 564 clergy abuse victims. The Associated Press.
Seelye, K.Q. (2011, March 4). In Philadelphia, New Cases Loom in Priest Scandal. The New York Times.