Hundreds Register for Diocese's Abuse Compensation Plan

By Peter Smith
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 1, 2019

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has received formal notice of more than 400 people who either have filed or may file claims for financial compensation for alleged sexual abuse by its clergy.

And early returns are in for claims that have already been filed. The diocese has so far paid about $4 million in total to 26 victims, or roughly $150,000 per person, according to the fundís administrators.

Wednesday was the deadline for people who hadnít previously reported abuse to the diocese to register formally with the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which the diocese launched in the wake of a 2018 grand jury report on sexual abuse by priests in the diocese over the past seven decades.

By midnight Wednesday, some 372 registrations had been filed, said Camille Biros, who is administering the fund along with Washington, D.C., attorney Kenneth Feinberg.

The 372 registrations, however, havenít been reviewed yet for initial eligibility. They include some duplicate registrations, and they may also include allegations not covered by the compensation program, such as abuse by lay teachers or religious-order priests. The program only covers abuse by clergy (priests or deacons) who were ordained by the diocese.

The 372 figure doesnít include an additional 42 others who had reported abuse in past years to the diocese and who have filed claims for compensation.

Nor is it known yet how many eligible participants will actually file claims. The much-larger Archdiocese of New York launched a similar program in 2016, and to date it has paid approximately $65 million to about 330 people, its spokesman said.

Under the Pittsburgh program, those registering provide a case summary, and those deemed eligible then receive a claim form to provide more details.

People have until the end of September to file full claims.

Even though the statistics remain preliminary, the numbers confirm this much: The diocese will be paying out far more than it ever has previously to victims. Pennsylvania dioceses have largely been shielded by the statute of limitations from lawsuits over long-ago abuse that have proved to be costly for dioceses in other states.

Before the just-released figures from the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program were announced, the Pittsburgh diocese reported in July that it had paid $7 million in settlements and other assistance to victims from 1991 through mid-2019, and another $3.8 million in attorneyís fees.

The registration numbers also confirm the diocese has cause for continued concern over its financial plight, coming amid declines in attendance and donations and reductions in staff earlier this year.

In August 2018, a statewide grand jury reported on allegations of sexual abuse involving more than 90 priests in the diocese over the past seven decades. Most of the abuse occurred before 1990, but much had not been revealed before the report became public.

In response to public outcry, the Pittsburgh diocese announced the compensation program in December. Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros have extensive experience administering similar funds after major legal settlements and disasters. Other dioceses covered in the report have launched similar compensation programs.

Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros said in December that claims would typically be approved in cases with corroborating evidence from sources such as the victims or the diocese. Compensation amounts are determined based on factors such as the age of the victim when abused and the severity and frequency of the abuse.

Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer said he is representing 89 people who have registered claims with the Pittsburgh diocese. Some claimants also have pending lawsuits against the diocese. Those filing claims can ultimately decide whether to accept or reject the offer.

The lawsuits, often involving decades-old abuse, seek to overcome the statute of limitations by alleging a conspiracy of abuse and coverup that continued until the grand jury reportís release. This legal theory won an important round at the Superior Court level earlier this year but remains under challenge.

Mr. Perer questioned some of the limits of the compensation program, saying some of his clients were abused by priests from religious orders such as the Franciscans but who worked in diocesan assignments.

Among other statistics related to the compensation program, according to Ms. Biros:

Of the 372 people who have registered for the program, some 93 filed full claims after passing an initial eligibility screening. Those are pending.

Of the 42 claimants who had notified the diocese in previous years of their allegations, 26 have been issued payments totaling about $4 million. Others are in process with a small number ruled ineligible.

Peter Smith: or 412-263-1416; Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.








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