Diocese Paid Nearly $11 Million in Abuse Settlements, Legal Fees

By Peter Smith
Post Gazette
July 5, 2019

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has spent $10.8 million on victim compensation and legal fees related to sexual abuse by clergy over nearly three decades.

It has also spent roughly $5 million more toward a minimum but livable compensation for priests suspended for abuse.

That’s according to a financial accounting released this week as pledged by Bishop David Zubik earlier this year in a pastoral letter on the sexual-abuse crisis that flared locally after the release in August of a statewide grand jury report on six dioceses, including Pittsburgh.

The grand jury alleged abuse by more than 90 Pittsburgh priests across seven decades, many of whose names had not been made public before the report.

“The ultimate impact of child sexual abuse is ongoing suffering endured by the victims-survivors — the toll taken on their faith and their capacity to trust and to love,” he said in a statement. “Catholics and the public have a right to know what the church has done to respond, and to see that we have sought for many years to provide assistance to victims.”

The total payments are low compared to those of many dioceses nationwide, some of which have paid in the nine figures and filed for bankruptcy. Catholic entities in the United States have paid an estimated $3 billion in settlements since the 1980s. The Pittsburgh diocese has a current Catholic population of more than 600,000 across six counties.

The Pittsburgh figure is likely to rise due to an ongoing out-of-court victim-compensation program set up by the diocese.

One major factor keeping Pittsburgh’s figure low has been Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations, which has largely shielded dioceses from litigation over long-ago offenses of the type that have led some in other states to file for bankruptcy.

“Especially given what we know now about the number of offending priests, this is a low number,” said Terry McKiernan of the group, which tracks abuse cases and aims to hold church officials to account for the crisis.

“I don’t think the numbers represent the level of the problem,” he said. “They indicate how well the problem was kept under wraps” until the grand jury report.

Even within Pennsylvania, the diocese’s figure is low compared with the much smaller Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the subject of a separate grand jury report in 2016. That diocese reported this year it had spent $21.5 million in abuse-related expenses, most going to more than 290 victims of priests and others associated with the church.

The Pittsburgh report does not indicate the number of victims involved.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh itemized its abuse-related expenses as follows:

$4.7 million in legal settlements dating to 1991, its oldest settlement on record. The largest settlement came in 2007 with 32 survivors who had filed lawsuits naming various abusers; the settlement came after a Superior Court ruling upheld the statute of limitations and effectively undercut the lawsuits’ chances. (A new batch of lawsuits, alleging a conspiracy of cover-up revealed only through recent grand jury findings, is pending.)

$2.3 million in other assistance to survivors since 2003, mainly counseling. The diocese said it didn’t have comparable figures from earlier years.

$3.8 million in legal fees, almost all of which was incurred since 2016, in response to the grand jury investigation and its fallout.

About $315,000 in annual payments since the early 2000s toward compensation for priests removed from ministry after allegations of abuse were substantiated against them. Some abusers were removed entirely from ministry, but church law requires dioceses to provide basic care for older or infirm ones who can’t take care of themselves. Most of the payment goes to health care, and their salary is then half a regular priest’s salary, the diocese said. Total payments weren’t provided and the diocese didn’t have an exact starting point for reckoning the annual average. But if the averages date back to mid-2002, when national policy began requiring the removal of all abusers, the total would be roughly $5 million by now.

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416;








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