Pennsylvania Has Paid Out Nearly $84 Million to Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors

Pennsylvania Has Paid Out Nearly $84 Million to Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors
Photo: Jeff Swensen (Getty Images)

Seven of the eight churches comprising Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses have paid out nearly $84 million in compensation to 564 survivors of clergy sexual abuse this year, the Associated Press reported. That number is expected to get even larger next year as a backlog remains. The funds were open this year and are “independently administered.” (The Altoona-Johnstown diocese says another fund isn’t affordable after spending $15.7 million on an earlier program for abuse survivors.)

The average payout was $148,000 per person, which the AP noted is rather small in comparison to court-ordered payments. The AP spoke with one survivor, David Zernhelt, who recently accepted a $400,000 compensation from the Diocese of Allentown. “It doesn’t make me rich. It creates a positive starting point for me,” 45-year-old Zernhelt told the AP, choosing to be identified as a survivor of sexual abuse. “I can try to make my life a little bit better and put this behind me.”

He is one of 391 accepted settlements from more than 1,500 claims in the Allentown dioceses. The AP reported that about 500 have been reviewed thus far, with 41 rejected.

“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. We consider all that and use our judgement to determine the settlement offer,” Camille Biros, who helps to administer the compensation funds for Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, and Scranton dioceses, told the AP. “We want to make sure everybody is treated as consistently as possible.”

In late November, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf approved legislation that gives child sexual abuse survivors more time to file civil lawsuits while ending the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges.

In August 2018, a state grand jury issued a report that detailed the extent of 70 years of covering for perpetuators in the clergy within six of the dioceses. Here’s the 457-page report, which details offenders in six dioceses and the Society of St. John.

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