Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Pays $19.2 Million to Settle 224 Clergy Abuse Claims
By Deb Erdley
December 3, 2020
Signaling an end to the latest chapter in the Catholic Church’s struggle to heal from scathing revelations of child sexual abuse in a 2018 grand jury report, an independent mediator for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced Thursday that it has completed two years of work and awarded more than $19 million to settle 224 claims of clergy sexual abuse.
The announcement from The Kenneth Feinberg Group marks the conclusion of work begun in January 2019 after the diocese engaged the firm to administer a compensation fund program established in the wake of the grand jury report, which detailed decades of clergy sexual abuse in dioceses across the state.
Bishop David Zubik hailed the mediator’s work and said it is just one aspect of the church’s continuing effort to help abuse victims heal. He noted that the church had settled claims with 34 abuse victims in 2007 and set up counseling programs to help victims.
“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,” Zubik said. “It is my prayer that this compensation will provide support that victims/survivors need on their path toward healing.”
The grand jury report, released in August 2018, detailed 301 allegations of clergy sexual abuse of children in Catholic dioceses across the state. It included allegations against 99 priests from the Pittsburgh Diocese and 20 priests from the Greensburg Diocese, many dating back decades.
Responding to public outcry, Zubik in December 2018 announced the creation of an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program as part of the church’s ongoing efforts to respond to the claims and promote healing to survivors.
The Feinberg Group reported that it received 369 claims. Two were later withdrawn, while another 70 were determined to be ineligible under terms of the fund protocols. Of the 297 claims deemed eligible, 21 claimants did not respond to offers and another 52 rejected the offers, mediators said. Payouts to 224 claimants averaged about $86,000.
Officials said many of the claims pre-dated 1990.
Zubik stressed that the funds did not come from parishes, schools, the Church Alive campaign or the sale of parish assets, but rather from insurance and a fund from the sale of historic assets that has grown over time.
The Pittsburgh Diocese was the most recent to close one of the compensation funds that five dioceses and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia launched in the wake of the grand jury report.
In October 2019, the Greensburg Diocese reported it has paid $4.35 million to settle claims with 57 survivors for an average settlement of $76,315.
In May, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the largest of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic regions, announced it had paid out $44 million to settle claims with 208 of 615 certified claims and expected to pay out $130 million by the time the fund closed.
Claimants who have accepted settlements from the compensation funds were required to sign away any future rights to sue the church for damages. Some who were barred from court action under current statute of limitation laws opted to take the settlements. Others still hope to have their day in court.
Although the mediators have completed their work and settlements have been paid, the Pittsburgh Diocese has yet to close the books on nearly four dozen abuse civil suits still pending in court.
Pittsburgh lawyer Alan Perer, who represented about 75 survivors, said about half of his clients agreed to settlements with the Pittsburgh Diocese. The remainder are still pursuing court cases.
“Early in the process, the settlement offers were good, reasonable settlements, six-figure offers,” Perer said. “But in 2020, the offers were woefully less — $10,000, $15,000, $7,500 — and many people rejected those offers. They felt it was more trauma, an insult.”
Perer, who represented abuse survivors in multiple dioceses, said the process varied slightly from one region to the next.
He commended the Greensburg Diocese mediators for taking personal statements from every claimant. He said mediators in Pittsburgh, who were dealing with more claims, relied on written statements.
“I think it was more humane to let the victims be heard and tell their story to someone,” Perer said.
The outcome of dozens of court cases still pending across the state could hinge on the state Supreme Court’s ruling on a statute of limitations case Perer argued last month. A ruling is expected next year.