The Catholic Diocese of Erie announced the completion of its Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program. In February 2019, the diocese launched the victim compensation fund to compensate clergy abuse victims.
The diocese created the program in response to the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report. In March 2021, the diocese made its final payments. The victim compensation program paid $16.6 million directly to claimants. The diocese has paid a total of $31.35 million to cover costs associated with clergy abuse claims.
Erie Diocese’s Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program
In February 2019, the Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses launched the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program. The program accepted abuse claims for six months.
In March 2021, the compensation fund made its final payments to survivors. The payments ranged from $5,000 to $400,000 per survivor. In total, the diocese paid $16.6 million to clergy abuse survivors.
In May 2021, the diocese released further details about the completed program:
- The program received 181 applications.
- 134 applicants accepted offers.
- The program denied 30 claimants.
- 10 claimants were deemed ineligible for the program because they were not minors at the time of the abuse.
- Seven claimants refused offers.
Erie Diocese Pays Additional Clergy Abuse Costs
The $16.6 million accounted for only a part of the total cost paid by the Erie Diocese. The diocese spent a total $31.35 million to handle clergy abuse allegations, including:
- The diocese paid $4 million for experts to review the diocese’s abuse files, prepare for the investigation, update child protection policies, and start a public list of diocesan clergy members and laypeople accused of abuse.
- In 2019, the diocese paid a $2 million settlement in a case against David L. Poulson.
- Prior to 2012, the diocese paid $750,000 in assistance to abuse survivors, including counselling and settlements.
The diocese paid $8 million to the Pittsburgh law firm K&L Gates to investigate the diocese’s abuse files.
According to Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico, the funds came from a line of credit obtained by the Diocese of Erie. No survivors were paid using church donations, the diocese’s annual Catholic Services Appeal, or the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Dioceses Face Sex Abuse Scandal
After a two-year investigation into child sex abuse allegations against the Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, a grand jury published the Pennsylvania Dioceses Victim Report in 2018. The investigation looked into six of the eight Pennsylvania dioceses:
- Allentown Diocese
- Erie Diocese
- Greensburg Diocese
- Harrisburg Diocese
- Pittsburgh Diocese
- Scranton Diocese
Reports of abuse spanned 500,000 internal documents and 70 years, going as far back as the 1940s. The report identified more than 1,000 victims and named more than 300 abusive clergy members. Many of these priests had been dismissed or retired, or were deceased by the time the investigation took place. Only two priests were criminally charged following the grand jury report.
The report also noted the Catholic Church actively worked to keep the abuse quiet. Church leaders engaged in multiple cover-up tactics, including:
- Downplaying the nature of abuse in their reports
- Transferring abusive priests to new parishes
- Failing to report abuse claims to law enforcement
Lawmakers Expand Legal Deadlines For Survivors
Due to the scope of abuse in the Pennsylvania dioceses, the majority of the abuse cases identified by the report fell outside the state’s statute of limitations.
Only two recent abuse cases were within the legal deadline to file criminal charges.
In 2019, Pennsylvania lawmakers extended the legal deadline for survivors to file claims against their abusers. Despite this new deadline, many survivors remain unable to take legal action.
If Pennsylvania lawmakers pass a retroactive window, time-barred survivors would have a second chance to seek justice.
Pennsylvania Dioceses May Face More Lawsuits
Even though the Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program has ended, the Erie Diocese could face additional lawsuits.
In June 2019, a Superior Court allowed plaintiff Renee A. Rice to file an abuse-and-fraud suit against the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, even though the statute of limitations had expired. Rice claims the diocese covered up her abuse allegations, preventing her from suing within the legal deadline.
The state Supreme Court is reviewing an appeal against the Superior Court’s decision. Should the Supreme Court uphold this decision, the door will be open for other plaintiffs to sue based on alleged cover-ups. As of August 2020, the Erie Diocese is facing more than 30 lawsuits as a result of cover-ups and fraud.
Office of Attorney General. (N.D.) Pennsylvania Diocese Victims Report. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
Palattella, E. (2021, May 18). Clergy abuse: Catholic Diocese of Erie fund pays $16.6M to victims; total costs: $31.35M. GoErie.
Palattella, E. (2020, August 26). Erie diocese puts number of abuse lawsuits at 31. GoErie.
(2021, May 18). Diocese of Erie pays $16.6 million in compensation to victims of sexual abuse. YourErie.com.