In August, a grand jury report was released detailing allegations of sexual abuse by more than 300 hundred priests of more than 1,000 victims across Pennsylvania. The report has had wide-reaching consequences and has spurred investigations within various other dioceses across the country, including in Washington D.C. and Maryland. Since the release of the grand jury report, a multitude of events have transpired, including new investigations, civil and criminal charges, restitution efforts and more. Here, the attorneys at The Law Offices of Peter Angelos detail the latest updates to the cases of sexual abuse within dioceses across Pennsylvania.
Federal Investigation, Criminal Charges and Civil Suits Move Forward
In addition to the civil claims that are being pursued by survivors and victims, the August grand jury report resulted in criminal charges being filed against two priests from the Greensburg diocese. In October, Reverend David Lee Poulson pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and child endangerment. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled, but it is expected that he will have to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years. Reverend John Thomas Sweeney, another priest criminally charged based on the report, pleaded guilty to indecent assault in July and is also awaiting sentencing.
The U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania in October. Subpoenas have been served demanding confidential documents and testimony from various church leaders.
A civil suit has also been filed by a victim against the Allentown diocese, a former priest and two current bishops. The suit, filed by a former altar boy, alleges sexual abuse by former priest Bruno Tucci from 1999 to 2001. The claim alleges that the diocese failed to properly investigate his complaints, even after Tucci admitted to his superiors that he had inappropriately touched a child nearly ten years earlier. Tucci was temporarily sent to a “treatment facility,” and then returned to his former parish and active ministry. “The diocese did worse than nothing in that case,” said legal counsel for the victim.
The U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church of Pennsylvania in October. Subpoenas have been filed demanding confidential documents and testimony from various church leaders. Of the case, Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania professor and chief executive of Child USA, said, “It’s groundbreaking if we’re going to see one of the U.S. attorneys pursuing the Catholic cases. The federal government has so far been utterly silent on the Catholic cases.”
Pennsylvania House Passes Statute of Limitations Reform and Negotiates with Senate
One recommendation made within the grand jury report was that the statute of limitations for criminal charges be eliminated and that the statute of limitations to file a civil suit be extended. In October, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill that eliminates the criminal statute of limitations, extends the civil statute of limitations so that abuse survivors/victims may seek civil damages until they reach the age of 50, and opened a two-year window for abuse survivors/victims to file civil lawsuits despite the statute of limitations in their cases having expired.
Unfortunately, in November, the Pennsylvania Senate failed to bring the bill to a vote. Many members of the Senate raised concerns that the bill would violate the Pennsylvania Constitution. With the 2018 legislative session, over, we believe this bill will be brought up again in 2019 to hopefully finish the work that was done during 2018 session.
Pennsylvania Dioceses Take Steps to Establish Compensation Funds for Sex Abuse Victims
Seven of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses have pledged to create victim compensation funds for those who were sexually abused by Pennsylvania priests. These dioceses include Pittsburgh, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Scranton, Erie and Philadelphia. While the Philadelphia diocese was not named in the August grand jury report, reports filed in 2005 and 2011 alleged child sexual abuse by several priests within the diocese.
Philadelphia’s victim compensation fund program has now begun accepting claims, and letters have been mailed to nearly 350 alleged victims detailing the claims process. The program includes no appeals process and no cap on the total sum of compensation for victims. Victims must register their claim by July 31st and file by September 30th.
The victim compensation program may be an option for some survivors and victims. Those who do not wish to confront their abusers or the failures of the church to protect children, due to the emotional and mental costs involved, may elect to pursue the victim compensation fund program as an option. However, before pursuing the victim compensation option, all survivors and victims should understand that these programs have no appeals process, and are being used as a discretionary settlement tool created by the Church. Survivors and victims who accept compensation through this program, therefor, waive their right to file any subsequent claims in a court of law against the diocese in the future. Anyone who may wish to consider the compensation program as an option should do so only after consulting with an experienced attorney. The clergy sexual abuse team at The Law Offices of Peter Angelos can provide these survivors and victims when considering this option.
Discuss Your Legal Options with the Attorneys at The Law Offices of Peter Angelos
The Law Offices of Peter Angelos has developed a team of lawyers to help survivors and victims in their path to healing. We understand that there is a world of difference, and a long path of healing, that exists between being a victim of child sexual abuse and being a survivor. In our work with these individuals, we have come to understand that while both a victim and a survivor have suffered abuse, a victim has just recognized the healing process necessary to move forward with life. Often, a victim can go decades without recognizing healing is needed or how difficult the healing process can be. We understand that to these folks, reassurance, patience and compassion are necessary.
Sexual abuse, particularly of minors, is a reprehensible crime that has long-lasting emotional, physical and mental impacts on survivors/victims and their families. It is vital for survivors/victims of such abuse to be heard and for their claims to be investigated. Some survivors/victims of abuse in Pennsylvania have filed civil and criminal suits against their alleged abusers, and survivors/victims may be entitled to compensation from compensation funds established by the Pennsylvania dioceses. Survivors/victims of abuse are urged to speak to an attorney at The Law Offices of Peter Angelos to discuss their options for legal recourse.