A $1.25 million resolution of civil lawsuits filed by those who claimed they were sexually abused by priests of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh was the best deal they could get, attorneys said.
"It is with mixed feelings that we are settling these cases. The courts and Legislature have disfavored these cases," said attorney Alan Perer, representing 26 men and nine women who sued the diocese in 2004, alleging they were abused by priests.
Despite the odds against them, three plaintiffs opted out of the settlement in order to keep their cases active, he said.
In return for a share of the $1.25 million "Outreach Fund" that will be divided by retired Allegheny County Judge Alan Penkower and counseling the diocese will pay for, 32 of the plaintiffs dropped their lawsuits against the diocese.
Perer, who would not discuss how much attorneys fees in the case might be, said Penkower will decide the amount of money each person receives based on the severity of abuse and the impact on their lives.
The oldest claim of abuse began in 1954 and the most recent was in1989, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocesan spokesman. Insurance money will pay for the Outreach Fund, he said.
A group of alleged victims who indicated they were not happy with the settlement planned to meet last night to discuss it and would probably issue a statement today, a spokesman for the group said.
Nine of the 18 priests accused are dead; nine no longer practice ministry, Lengwin said. One priest, Richard J. Dorsch, was convicted.
"Many of these victims would love to have their day in court," said attorney Richard Serbin, co-counsel in the cases.
Pennsylvania courts have ruled the statute of limitations -- two years after a person's 18th birthday -- prevents filing lawsuits because the alleged abuses occurred long before the case were filed, Perer said.
Most plaintiffs who sued the diocese three years ago are in their 40s. Their cases never reached trial.
"It's been a long road for these people," said attorney Diane Perer,who handled many of the interviews with her husband, Alan Perer.
Unlike California, which gave people an extra year to file claims, Pennsylvania has not, Alan Perer said.
Serbin said a measure was introduced in the Legislature last year to extend the statute of limitations, but it remains in committee.
"It's sad because of Pennsylvania's predator-friendly laws none of those victims will have their day in court," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests.
Incoming Bishop David A. Zubik wanted to see if the cases could be resolved, said Alan Perer, who added that a new level of compassion surfaced recently in discussions about the cases.
But Zubik distanced himself from the announcement, pointing out in a statement that he does not become bishop of Pittsburgh until Sept. 28.
Zubik said he learned of the possible resolution two weeks ago and supported the effort.
"I think it is paramount that, as church, we do what we can to bring healing to people who have been harmed," he said in a statement. In Green Bay, Zubik publically apologized to sex assault victims and held "prayer service of apology" last fall for those victimized by the church.
The decision to resolve the cases was made by Bishop Paul J.Bradley, who is serving as administrator of the diocese until Zubik'sinstallation.
"Outreach and healing have been central to our response to victims of clergy sexual misconduct," Bradley said.
Craig Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5646.