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Pittsburgh's clergy sexual abuse compensation fund to open in January

Aaron Aupperlee
| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, 4:57 p.m.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh plans to fund a compensation program for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests through past and future sales of diocese-owned property.

Bishop David Zubik announced details of the compensation fund Thursday.

Zubik did not know how many claims the church could face or how much money it would pay out through the program.

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

Zubik said the compensation program would be administered independently of the diocese by Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, a business manager at Feinberg’s firm. The bishop would not say how much the diocese is paying Feinberg and Biros to administer the fund, calling it a business decision that he would not disclose.

Catholic dioceses across the state announced the funds more than a month ago in the wake of a scathing statewide grand jury report on decades of sexual abuse by clergy and cover-up allegations by the church. Dioceses began establishing the funds after state lawmakers failed once again to pass statute of limitation reforms that would allow victims to bring old claims of abuse against the church.

Victims who are barred by the legal statute of limitations may apply for compensation through the program. The program also will be open to victims bringing new claims of sexual assault against the church.

Feinberg said the diocese set no limit on the amount of money to be paid out to eligible victims.

“The diocese has told us, ‘You’re independent. You will decide. Pay all eligible claims,’” Feinberg said.

Zubik said there is no way to know at this point how many claims will be brought against the diocese. He said the financial commitment from the diocese would be “substantial” without indicating what that amount might be.

The diocese will fund the program through investments from the previous sale of diocese-owned properties and assets such as orphanages and other closed institutions. Additional funding could come from the sale of the diocese’s Downtown properties, including its headquarters building on the Boulevard of the Allies.

“Let me be clear, no funds for this program will come from our campaign ‘For the Church Alive’ or from Catholic charities or from parishes, schools or any funds designated for specific use by donors,” Zubik said.

Zubik said those funds have not been used in the past to compensate victims.

Victims who accept money through the program will give up future rights to take the church to court, Feinberg said.

The program is voluntary.

“It’s not as if you can reject these funds and go to court,” Feinberg said of the current situation in Pennsylvania. “It’s an alternative to uphill litigation, and the goal here is to get these claims paid as soon as possible.”

Victims of abuse already known by the church will begin receiving letters in the mail detailing the program. The program will open toward the end of January and close at the end of September, Feinberg said.

Feinberg and Biros have handled some of the largest victim compensation programs of the last two decades, including the 9/11 fund, damages from the BP oil spill, payments to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and several other national tragedies. The pair is administering funds for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the dioceses of Greensburg, Harrisburg, Allentown, Scranton and Erie in addition to Pittsburgh. They are finishing work on five funds in New York that considered about 1,300 claims and resolved 1,170 of them.

You can contact Aaron at 412-336-8448, aaupperlee@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

Bishop David Zubik outlines the work they will be doing to manage the compensation fund, during a press conference announcing the details of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, on Dec. 13, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Bishop David Zubik outlines the work they will be doing to manage the compensation fund, during a press conference announcing the details of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, on Dec. 13, 2018.
Camille Birros (left), and Kenneth Feinberg, listen as Bishop David Zubik outlines the work they will be doing to manage the compensation fund, during a press conference announcing the details of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, on Dec. 13, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Camille Birros (left), and Kenneth Feinberg, listen as Bishop David Zubik outlines the work they will be doing to manage the compensation fund, during a press conference announcing the details of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Pittsburgh, on Thursday, on Dec. 13, 2018.
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