A family recently filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Church in Baltimore, Maryland. The lawsuit alleges that over 500 priests abused children and paid $215 million to keep their silence. Now victims are demanding accountability from the church they believed would protect them instead of abusing them themselves.
(As of January 10, 2019)
More than 1,000 allegations of abuse reported to church officials were never referred to the police, according to the grand jury in Pennsylvania.
A Pennsylvania grand jury produced a report in August 2018 alleging extensive child sexual abuse cover-up in six Catholic dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. Since 1947, more than 300 priests have been accused of molesting over 1,000 children, according to the study.
It is the “biggest, most thorough study on child sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church ever created in the United States,” according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Six of Pennsylvania’s seven dioceses – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Greensburg, and Allentown — have set up compensation funds for victims of clerical sexual abuse. These dioceses are accused of creating an atmosphere conducive to abuse and failing to report these crimes to the appropriate authorities.
Authorities were allegedly kept in the dark about decades of abuse.
During an 18-month investigation into claims of child abuse in Pennsylvania, a grand jury examined more than 2 million internal church papers. Church officials referred to some of these materials as “the secret documents,” and they included specific accounts of child abuse that were never reported to police.
While the grand jury found over 1,000 reports of abuse to church authorities, they suspect the number of molested children is far greater, maybe in the thousands.
“Victims were often discouraged from reporting abuse to police by many diocese authorities, including bishops.”
According to the study, Pennsylvania church officials reportedly discouraged victims from reporting clerics to police.
“Several diocesan administrators, including bishops, frequently discouraged victims from reporting abuse to police, pressured law enforcement to end or avoid an investigation, or conducted their own deficient, biased investigation without reporting crimes against children to the proper authorities,” according to the report.
Above all, the grand jury determined that authorities shielded the abusers and the church at the expense of the children who were damaged. If the church took any action in response to these allegations, the accused priests were often simply transferred to another church or removed from the priesthood without any public notice of their illegal actions.
Following repeated allegations alleging him of sexually assaulting minors in Frackville, Pennsylvania, Edward Ganster reportedly asked his retirement from the priesthood. However, before leaving, he requested a letter of reference for Disney World, which the grand jury believes the church provided.
State legislators are calling for the repeal of statutes of limitations.
Survivors of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania have until their 30th birthday to file a civil claim and 50th birthday to press criminal charges.
The statute of limitations (the time limit within which a case may be filed) for civil and criminal child sexual abuse lawsuits varies by state.
Survivors of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania have until their 30th birthday to file a civil claim and 50th birthday to press criminal charges. However, some politicians and attorneys are asking for the statute of limitations to be repealed or extended entirely to enable every victim to seek justice.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D), a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic school priest, is among those advocating for the criminal statute of limitations to be repealed.
The grand jury recommended that the statute of limitations be extended to enable elder victims to sue the church in civil court. They also called for stricter legislation mandating church authorities to disclose child sexual abuse in their report.
Some states have temporarily suspended statutes of limitations to enable victims of abuse to come forward, and Pennsylvania may follow suit. The Minnesota Child Victims Act of 2013 established a three-year opportunity for more than 850 abuse survivors to come forward. More than half of the accusations were made against Minnesota Catholic clergy members.
Compensation may provide some relief to survivors.
Though no amount of money could ever compensate for the horrors of sexual assault, recompense does provide survivors with some solace and justice. In Pennsylvania, compensation funds for victims of clerical sex abuse were created in the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Erie, Greensburg, and Allentown.
Unless they’ve already resolved a claim with the Catholic Church, all victims of clerical sex abuse in certain dioceses are entitled for compensation. When a victim files a claim with the compensation fund, claim administrators analyze it and make a decision within 90 days.
“According to the [grand jury] investigation, Pennsylvania church officials reportedly discouraged victims from reporting clerics to police.”
Neither the church nor the victim will be allowed to dispute a fund administrator’s decision on a victim’s compensation. Victims, on the other hand, are under no obligation to accept the amount and may opt out of the compensation scheme at any time, even after receiving their compensation award.
Importantly, if victims of clergy sexual abuse accept compensation under the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program, they must forgo their ability to sue the diocese.
Victims who refuse to accept dioceses’ compensation via the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program may never get their day in court. Because the statute of limitations in many clergy sex abuse cases has passed, the Pennsylvania Legislature must enact legislation to extend or remove the statute of limitations so that victims may pursue a civil claim. Until then, the compensation funds may be the only method for clerical sex abuse victims to get cash recompense.
Attorney Kenneth R. Feinberg and his business manager Camille S. Biros will oversee the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations initiative. Feinberg previously worked as the administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund, the special master for the 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, and the administrator of the New York clergy sex abuse compensation fund.
Feinberg and Bilos will assess each claim and make a compensation decision based on the following criteria:
- The extent of the damage
- Age of the victims
- The severity of the abuse
- Medical, counseling, or prescription charges with verifiable proof
- Overall believability of claims
Previously, dioceses in other states were required to pay clerical sex abuse victims. To date, more than $3 billion has been collected in child sexual abuse claims brought against Catholic dioceses in the United States. Some of the most recent settlements are listed here.
- $210 million—Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: In May 2018, the church agreed to pay $210 million to 450 child sexual assault survivors. For the first time, 91 clergy members were recognized as credibly accused sex offenders because to the survivors’ courage.
- The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) of the New York Archdiocese is worth $40 million. The IRCP provided $40 million to 189 survivors, according to the church. The average winnings were $211,600.
- $21 million—Archdiocese of Milwaukee: In 2015, 330 abuse survivors struck a settlement deal with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. A therapeutic fund of $500,000 was included in the settlement.
- $1.6 Million—Roman Catholic Church of Rochester: The church announced in June 2018 that it had given $1.6 million to 20 survivors of sexual abuse by 24 priests in Rochester, New York.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How much does the victims of a clergyman get in a lawsuit?
A: The victims of a clergyman get $250,000 in a lawsuit
How much money do sexual assault victims get?
A: Sexual assault victims are not entitled to anything in terms of compensation.
Can abuse victims sue?
A: Unfortunately, the law in North America is complicated. Abuse victims can potentially sue their abusers under a theory of civil battery. A person who intentionally and unlawfully touches someone else without consent commits an act of assault, which can be taken to court for damages if filed as a lawsuit entitled in trespass to personal property (which claims that your bodily integrity has been violated). Its possible something like this could happen, but it would require extensive research into Canadian laws and litigation practices.