Since the 2018 release of a grand jury report on Catholic clergy sexual abuse, the dioceses of Pennsylvania have paid $84 million to 564 victims, reports the Associated Press. That compensation amount is expected to climb dramatically as the dioceses work through a backlog of claims.
After the report was released, showing that more than 1,000 minors allegedly were sexually molested by some 300 clergy since the 1940s, seven of the eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania set up victim compensation funds. The deadline for filing a claim was September 30, 2019.
The funds are used to pay victims who can demonstrate that they were abused; the allegations must be "credible." Although the money is designed to provide a measure of justice and compensation to the victims, some legal experts claim the church is getting off easy because the payments, on average, are smaller than what a victim could win in a jury trial.
"To date, the average payout across all seven dioceses has exceeded $148,000 — a fraction of what some adult victims of childhood abuse might have expected from a jury had they been permitted to take their claims to court," reported AP. "Under state law, victims of past abuse only have until age 30 to sue."
“'These are all time-barred claims, so it’s not going to be the kind of numbers one sees in a courtroom,' Camille Biros, who helps administer compensation funds for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and dioceses in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie and Scranton," told AP.
“We try to be consistent with the claims in terms of the nature of the abuse, how long it went on, the age of the child, the effect of the abuse," said Biros. "We consider all that and use our judgement to determine the settlement offer. We want to make sure everybody is treated as consistently as possible.”
Although the grand jury report documented sexual abuse of minors by more than 300 clergy since the 1940s, many of those priests are now dead, or no longer in the priesthood, and the statute of limitations has expired, which means charges cannot be filed.
Child sexual abuse victims often do not report the crimes committed against them for many years, even decades, because of shame and guilt, according to experts. Also, it is true in countless cases that church authorities did not inform the police about these crimes but quietly shuffled abusers from one parish to another.
"Most child abuse victims don’t come forward until they’re 52, long after the statute of limitations has expired, which leaves survivors with no course of criminal or civil action, according to data from CHILD USA," as reported in USA Today.
"Most accused priests were named — either by dioceses or survivors — after the statute of limitation in their respective state had expired," said USA Today. "That means the priest can often move on with their lives, taking new jobs and building new community relationships."
In one of many cases detailed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Diocese of Scranton "chose to defend its clergy abusers over its children. A diocese priest was arrested and convicted after decades of abuse reports that had been ignored by the church. The bishop finally took action only as the sentencing date approached.
"He wrote a letter to the judge, with a copy to a state senator, urging the court to release the defendant to a Catholic treatment center. He emphasized the high cost of incarceration.
"In another case, a priest raped a girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. The bishop expressed his feelings in a letter: 'This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.' But the letter was not for the girl. It was addressed to the rapist."
In another case, the report states, "A priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg abused five sisters in a single family, despite prior reports that were never acted on. In addition to sex acts, the priest collected samples of the girls’ urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood. Eventually, his house was searched and his collection was found."
"Without that kind of incontrovertible evidence, apparently, the diocese remained unwilling to err on the side of children even in the face of multiple reports of abuse," according to the report. "As a high-ranking official said about one suspect priest: 'At this point we are at impasse – allegations and no admission.' Years later, the abuser did admit what he had done, but by then it was too late."
According to Dr. Leon Podles, the author of Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, "using conservative estimates to extrapolate the number of abusive priests and of victims in the U.S.," there are between "100,000 -200,000 [clergy abuse] victims in the U.S. alone."
In addition, "unless American priests are uniquely sinful, there were something like 35,000 to 100,000 abusive priests worldwide with anywhere from 100,000 to 2,000,000 victims," Podles told CNSNews.com.