The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has paid more than $19 million to survivors of clergy sexual abuse. This compensation was paid through the diocese’s victim compensation program. This program is called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP).
The IRCP was established in 2019 to settle claims of clergy abuse in the wake of a grand jury investigation.
Pennsylvania Dioceses Grand Jury Investigation
In 2016, a grand jury investigated allegations of clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. Attorney General Josh Shapiro led the review. The investigation examined claims from the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.
The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were not included in the grand jury investigation. These dioceses were the subjects of earlier investigations.
The final grand jury report was released in 2018. It documented sexual abuse allegations against 301 priests across the six dioceses. The report named 99 priests accused of abuse from the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Diocese Of Pittsburgh Compensation Program Details
The Diocese of Pittsburgh chose the Law Offices of Kenneth R. Feinberg, PC to administer the IRCP. The group was responsible for reviewing survivor claims and paying out program awards.
Since the program’s establishment in 2019, 224 sexual abuse claims totaling $19.2 million have been settled.
The compensation program received 369 total claims, of which 224 resulted in payouts. The breakdown of these claims is as follows:
- 70 claims were deemed ineligible for compensation
- 2 claims were withdrawn
- 297 claims were deemed eligible for compensation
Of the 297 eligible claims, 21 claimants did not respond to the compensation offer. Similarly, 52 of the eligible claimants rejected their compensation offers.
The average compensation award was about $86,000. The program is now closed to claims.
“My heart continues to grieve for the victims of childhood sexual abuse, especially those abused by clergy, the very people who were ordained to guide them to a life of holiness. It is my prayer that this compensation will provide support that victims/survivors need on their path toward healing.”
Some Survivors Chose Lawsuits Over Settlements
When survivors accept a settlement, they waive the right to further legal action. Some individuals prefer to pursue justice through a lawsuit. Benefits to pursuing a lawsuit include the following:
- Survivors may have a greater opportunity to hold an organization accountable. The lawsuit may lead to the release of diocesan documents regarding the abuse.
- Survivors typically win more compensation through litigation than compensation funds or private settlements.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh still faces about four dozen civil lawsuits pending in court.
Other Pennsylvania Dioceses’ Settlements
Seven of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, including the Diocese of Pittsburgh, created compensation funds.
Millions of dollars have been paid to priest abuse survivors across Pennsylvania, including:
- As of November 2020, the Diocese of Allentown awarded nearly $16 million to 96 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
- As of October 2019, the Greensburg Diocese settled 57 survivor claims for a total of $4.35 million.
- As of August 2019, the Harrisburg Diocese has paid $12.1 million to 106 victims.
- As of October 2020, the Scranton Diocese has paid $24.4 million to 213 survivors.
By May 2020, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia paid more than $50 million to sex abuse survivors. The archdiocese’s compensation program is closed to new claims. However, the fund administrators are still reviewing claims. Thus, this total dollar amount may increase.
How Compensation Programs Affect Survivors
Compensation programs, such as the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s IRCP, have benefits and drawbacks for survivors.
For example, some survivors may find they are not able to file a traditional lawsuit due to their state’s statute of limitations. A victim compensation program may accept these older claims barred by such statutes. This can be a huge benefit to survivors with expired claims because it offers them a renewed path to compensation.
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).
However, there are some drawbacks to victim compensation programs. Program claims can result in lower monetary awards compared to lawsuits. Additionally, when victims accept a settlement offer, they waive their right to sue.
A knowledgeable lawyer can help a survivor weigh the benefits and drawbacks of litigation versus a compensation program to determine the best option for the survivor.
Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. (N.D.) Support for Victims/Survivors.
DeJesus, I. (2019, August 14). Diocese of Harrisburg pays out $12 million to victims of clergy sex abuse. PennLive.
Erdley, D. (2019, October 17). Greensburg Diocese paid $4.35 million in sexual abuse claims. Tribune-Review.
Erdley, D. (2020, December 3). Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese pays $19.2 million to settle 224 clergy abuse claims. Tribune-Review.
Guydish, M. (2020, October 29). Diocese releases compensation report, paid $24.4 million to 213 survivors. Times Leader.
Lange, S. (2018, August 14). Attorney General Lists Dozens of Priests Accused of Sex Abuse in Grand Jury Report. WNEP.
Schiavo, C., Opilo, E., Yates, R., et al. (2018, August 14). Scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report accuses hundreds of priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children. The Morning Call.