Catholic Church to pay $87.5 million to settle NJ lawsuits

TRENTON, N.J. —
A Catholic diocese in New Jersey has agreed to pay $87.5 million to settle claims involving clergy sex abuse with some 300 alleged victims in one of the largest cash settlements involving the Catholic church in the United States .

The settlement between the Diocese of Camden, which encompasses six counties from southern New Jersey to the outskirts of Philadelphia, and the plaintiffs was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden on Tuesday.

The settlement must still be submitted to a US bankruptcy judge. If approved, the settlement would top the nearly $85 million 2003 settlement in the Boston clergy abuse scandal, though that’s less than other settlements in California and Oregon.

“I want to express my sincere apologies to all those who have been affected by sexual abuse in our diocese,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan said in a statement. “My prayers go out to all survivors of abuse and I pledge my continued commitment to ensure that this terrible chapter in the history of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey never happens again.”

Details of what happened to them according to the approximately 300 victims were not included in the proposed settlement, according to an attorney for some 70 of the victims.

“This settlement with the Bishop of Camden is a major breakthrough in accountability,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing 74 of the roughly 300 survivors. “Credit goes to the survivors for standing up for themselves and standing up for the truth.”

The diocese said the agreement provides for the creation of a trust, which will be funded over four years by the diocese and “related Catholic entities” to compensate survivors of sexual abuse. Part of the agreement also calls for the maintenance or “improvement” of protocols to protect children.

Abuse survivors who filed a claim in bankruptcy could get $290,000, according to victims’ attorneys Jay Mascolo and Jason Amala.

The agreement comes more than two years after New Jersey expanded its civil statute of limitations window to allow victims of sexual abuse by priests to seek legal compensation. The legislation allows child victims to sue until the age of 55 or within seven years of first becoming aware that the abuse has harmed them. The previous statute of limitations was 20 years or two years after first realizing that the abuse had caused harm.

The diocese, like others across the country, had filed for bankruptcy amid a torrent of lawsuits – up to 55, according to court records – stemming from the relaxed statute of limitations.

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Jerry B. Hatch