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The Pittsburgh Catholic Church diocese has set up a new compensation program for victims of Catholic Church clergy abuse. First announced in December 2018, the program is now open for claims.

An independent law firm of Kenneth Feinberg—the same one that was hired to oversee similar funds from other dioceses in the state—is responsible for administering the program, and the Church has promised to abide by their decisions.

The dioceses stated it would reach out to known victims who previously submitted complaints of sexual abuse, but previously unknown victims may also be eligible to participate. Though it is possible for victims to receive compensation through a successful claim, a Catholic clergy abuse attorney can help navigate the process and inform victims of the full extent of their rights.  And, because the cases will be referred to the District Attorney’s office potentially, it ensures the survivor is represented by counsel should that happen.

As a former federal prosecutor myself, I know firsthand how important it is for survivors to be represented by counsel familiar with both civil and criminal law.  Ultimately, once a claimant accepts a payout from the program, he or she gives up the right to file a separate lawsuit on the matter.

Pittsburgh Diocese Compensation Program Website Live

The website for the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) went live on Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Victims may now visit the site for more information on the program, including who is eligible to file a claim, and may also register on the site, though it is best to consult with an attorney first.

Victims have until July 31, 2019 to register, which involves submitting their names and contact information, along with summary descriptions of the nature of the claims, including dates and location of the abuse and the names of the perpetrators. It will be up to the independent law firm overseeing the program to determine eligibility and the worth of each claim. There has been no cap indicated on the number of victims who can receive payment.

Other similar compensation programs have reportedly paid up to $500,000 for the highest claim, though it remains to be seen what this program will offer.

According to WITF news, the Church will pay for the claims through the sale of properties, including assets that have already been sold, and future sales of downtown properties owned by the dioceses. Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh stated that no money would come from Catholic Charities.

Large Number of Victims Ignored Because of Religious Orders

Despite the Church’s promises to help “promote healing by providing compensation to victim-survivors of abuse by priests or deacons of the diocese,” they are blocking a large number of victims from pursuing a claim. Those who allege abuse by a member of a religious order such as the Franciscans, Augustinians, or Jesuits are not eligible to register for this program.

The diocese doesn’t explain why, but the New York Times recently reported on the issue, noting that when members of these orders are accused of abuse, the Catholic dioceses don’t handle the complaints—they pass them over to those particular institutions in the church. Often, the complaints languish with no appropriate follow-up, leaving victims unable to find justice.

Philly.com also reported that though the Archdiocese of Philadelphia launched a similar compensation program a few months ago, victims who were abused by members of independent Catholic orders were not able to participate, even though the clergy may have worked in diocesan facilities. New York has similar programs that exclude these victims.

Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh stated in a press release that the program was more about the survivors than about the money: “It is about recognizing the harm done by past abuse and continuing our pledge of taking every appropriate action to prevent the occurrence of future abuse.”

Catholic churches across the nation have favored compensation programs like these over changes in state statute of limitations that would allow older victims to sue dioceses. There was legislation pending in Pennsylvania to open up a window to allow victims to sue beyond what the current statute allows, but it failed in the Senate.

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