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Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Announces Details Of Victims' Compensation Fund

Virginia Alvino Young
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Diocese Bishop David Zubik downtown on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh announced a program Thursday to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program will be administered by the law firm of Kenneth Feinberg. His firm has dispensed victim compensation funds for many high-profile cases including 9/11, the BP oil spill, and the Parkland, Fla. and Aurora, Colo. mass shootings. Now, it’s been hired to oversee clergy abuse funds in almost every diocese in Pennsylvania.

In Pittsburgh, the firm will determine the eligibility of each claim, and what it’s worth. Claims against diocese clergy and deacons will be considered. Claims against lay people or religious order priests will not. Individuals who have received previous settlements will not be eligible for claims. Those who accept their claim wave their right to sue the diocese in the future.

The Diocese did not indicate a cap on the number of victims who will be able to receive payment.

“The church has already told us here in Pittsburgh, we want all eligible claimants with valid claims to be compensated,” said Feinberg.

Claims can be filed for both known cases of abuse and those that have not been previously reported. In a grand jury report earlier this year, more than 1,000 victims were identified. Since the report was released, well over 1,000 people have called a hotline set up by the state’s Attorney General to report abuse.

The diocese will reach out to known victims with details about the program. No survivors are required to come forward and seek payment.

To determine payments, Feinberg’s firm will consider the age of the victim at the time of abuse, the nature and frequency of clergy abuse, and other factors. The highest amount paid in similar diocese funds has been $500,000.

Feinberg said what he’s learned from managing more than a dozen other diocese funds in other states, is that it’s about more than money.

“It is to the claimant validation of the merit of the claim. The legitimacy of the claim.  Sometimes after decades of waiting,” he said.

The Diocese will fund the program largely through the sale of properties. Bishop David Zubik said that includes assets that have already been sold, but acknowledged that money may need to come from the future sale of downtown properties owned by the diocese.

Zubik said no money will come from the parishes, the diocese’s recent capital campaign, or Catholic Charities.

“The payment of money cannot heal the scars of sexual abuse inflicted upon a young person,” said Zubik. “However, what compensation can do is help acknowledge the scourge of past clergy abuse. Secondly it can assist those brave survivors as they journey to find peace and happiness in their lives.”

Bishops across the state proposed compensation funds as an alternative to proposed statute of limitations legislation, which would have allowed older victims to sue dioceses. That legislation failed in the Pennsylvania Senate earlier this year.

The program will likely be up and running in late January 2019. Payments could be made as quickly as 90 days after a claim is filed.