Clergy Sexual Abuse Lawsuit
(Updated Jan. 10, 2019)
The P.A. grand jury discovered more than 1,000 counts of abuse reported to church officials that were never brought to the authorities.
In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse across six Catholic dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. The report accuses more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children since 1947.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called it the "largest, most comprehensive report into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States."
Six out of seven Pennsylvania diocese — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Greensburg, and Allentown — have established compensation funds for survivors of clergy sex abuse in the state. These dioceses allegedly created an environment that allowed abuse to happen and failed to report these crimes to the proper authorities.
Decades of Abuse Were Allegedly Hidden from Authorities
During the Pennsylvania grand jury’s 18-month investigation into child abuse allegations, they reviewed more than 2 million internal church documents. Some of these documents were referred to by church leaders as “the secret documents,” and detailed reports of child abuse that were never brought to the authorities.
While the grand jury discovered more than 1,000 accounts of abuse reported to church officials, they believe the number of abused children to be much higher and numbering in the thousands.
"Several diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police."
Pennsylvania church leaders allegedly discouraged victims from reporting clergy to the authorities, the report says.
“Several diocesan administrators, including the bishops, often dissuaded victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to terminate or avoid an investigation or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities."
Above all else, the grand jury claimed that officials protected the church and the abusers over the children who were harmed. If the church took any action against these claims, the accused priests were often just moved to another church or sometimes released from priesthood without any warning to the public of their criminal behavior.
Edward Ganster allegedly requested release from priesthood following multiple complaints accusing him of sexually abusing children in Frackville, Pennsylvania. But before he left, he asked for a recommendation letter for Disney World, which the grand jury claims the church granted.
State Politicians Call for Elimination of Statutes of Limitations
In Pennsylvania, survivors of sexual abuse have until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit, and until their 50th birthday to bring criminal charges.
The statute of limitations (the time frame someone can file a lawsuit) for civil and criminal child sexual abuse lawsuits varies from state to state.
In Pennsylvania, survivors of sexual abuse have until their 30th birthday to file a civil lawsuit, and until their 50th birthday to bring criminal charges. But some politicians and lawyers are advocating for the statute of limitations to be abolished altogether or extended in order to allow every survivor the opportunity to pursue justice.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D)—a survivor himself of sexual assault by a Catholic school priest—is one of those politicians calling for the statute of limitations for criminal claims to be abolished.
The grand jury recommended that the statute of limitations be extended to allow older victims a chance to file civil lawsuits against the church. In their report, they also asked for tighter laws requiring church officials to report child sexual abuse.
Some states have temporarily lifted the statutes of limitations to allow victims of abuse to step forward, which could happen in Pennsylvania. In 2013, Minnesota’s Child Victims Act created a three-year window that allowed more than 850 abuse survivors to step forward. More than half of those claims were against members of the Minnesota Catholic Clergy.
Compensation May Offer Survivors Some Relief
Though no amount of money could ever make up for the horrors of sexual abuse, compensation does allow survivors to obtain at least a small measure of relief and justice. In Pennsylvania Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Greensburg, and Allentown established compensation funds for victims of clergy sex abuse.
All victims of clergy sex abuse in the those dioceses are eligible to receive compensation, unless they've previously settled a claim with the Catholic Church. Once a victim files a claim with the compensation fund, the claim administrators will review the claim and issues a decision within about 90 days.
"Pennsylvania church leaders allegedly discouraged victims from reporting clergy to the authorities, the [grand jury] report says."
Once the fund administrators reach a decision on a victim's compensation, neither the church, nor the victim will be able to appeal. Victims do not have to accept the amount, however, and can pull out of the compensation program at any time, even after they’ve seen their compensation award.
Crucially, victims of clergy sex abuse must waive their right to file a lawsuit against the diocese if they accept compensation through the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program.
Victims who choose not to accept compensation from the dioceses through the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program may never get their day in court. Because the statute of limitations has expired in many clergy sex abuse cases, the Pennsylvania Legislature must pass a measure extending or abolishing the statute of limitations, so that victims can file a civil suit. Until that happens, the compensation funds may be the only way for victims of clergy sex abuse to get financially compensated.
The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program will be administered by attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg and his business manager, Camille S. Biros. Previously, Feinberg served as the administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, was the special master for the 9/11 victims' compensation fund, and administered the compensation fund for victims of clergy sex abuse in New York.
Feinberg and Bilos will evaluate each claim and determine the compensation award based on the following factors:
- Extent of harm
- Victims’ age
- Degree of the abuse
- Verifiable documentation of medical, counseling or prescription expenses
- Claims overall credibility
Previously, dioceses in other states have had to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse. To date, child sexual abuse lawsuits filed against U.S. Catholic dioceses have recovered more than $3 billion. Here are some of the most recent settlements.
- $210 Million—Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: In May 2018, the church settled claims filed by 450 survivors of child sexual abuse. Because of the survivors’ bravery, 91 clergy members were listed as credibly accused sex offenders for the first time.
- $40 Million—New York Archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP): The church reported that 189 survivors received $40 million through the IRCP. The average payout was $211,600.
- $21 Million—Archdiocese of Milwaukee: In 2015, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee reached a settlement agreement with 330 abuse survivors. The settlement included $500,000 for a therapy fund.
- $1.6 Million—Roman Catholic Church of Rochester: In June 2018, the church reported that $1.6 million was paid to 20 survivors abused by 24 priests in Rochester, New York.
Contact Us for a Confidential Legal Consultation
Our attorneys appreciate the sensitive nature of these cases and have the experience to help victims navigate the complexities of these type of lawsuits. To learn more about pursuing a lawsuit against the Catholic Church, contact us for a free, private legal consultation.
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