A New Jersey Catholic diocese in Trenton has agreed to pay $87.5 million to settle claims of clergy sex abuse. Approximately 300 alleged victims will be part of one of the largest cash settlements in the U.S. Catholic church’s checkered history.
The agreement between the injured plaintiffs and the Diocese of Camden encompasses six counties in southern New Jersey. Plaintiffs filed their cases with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden this week.
A U.S. bankruptcy judge must still review the settlement. If the judge approves, the settlement would exceed the nearly $85M settlement in 2003 in the Boston clergy abuse scandal, though the $87M would be smaller than California and Oregon settlements.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan Statement:
“I want to express my sincere apology to all those who have been affected by sexual abuse in our Diocese. My prayers go out to all survivors of abuse, and I pledge my continuing commitment to ensure that this terrible chapter in the history of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey never happens again.”
Details of the alleged abuse of the estimated 300 victim survivors were not included in the proposed settlement, said an attorney for roughly 70 of the survivors.
Credit to the Survivors
“This settlement with the Bishop of Camden is a powerful advance in accountability,” said Jeff Anderson, who represented 74 of the survivors. “The credit goes to the survivors for standing up for themselves and the truth.”
While the alleged sex abuse occurred from the 1950s into the 1990s, most of it happened in the 1960s and 1970s.
The diocese said the deal calls for establishing a trust to be funded over four years by the diocese and “related Catholic entities.” The trust would compensate survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The settlement deal additionally requires that the church maintain or “enhance” protocols to better protect children in future.
One victim’s attorney said abuse survivors who filed a claim in the bankruptcy could receive as much as $290,000 in compensation.
The agreement came more than two years after New Jersey expanded the window of its civil statute of limitations. The Garden State moved in 2020 to allow for victims of priest sex abuse an extended period of time to seek legal compensation. The legislation change allows child victims to sue until they reach 55, or within seven years of their first realizing that the abuse caused them harm. The previous statute of limitations ended at age 20, or two years after a survivor first realized the abuse caused harm.
Abuse Cases triggered Bankruptcy Filing
Like other dioceses across the country, the Camden diocese had filed for bankruptcy amid a torrent of lawsuits stemming from the relaxed statute of limitation. Camden faced more than 55 lawsuits prior to its bankruptcy filing.
New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses listed more than 180 priests in 2019 who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors over a span of several decades. New Jersey joined more than two dozen other states which named suspected abusers in the wake of a shocking grand jury report in Pennsylvania in 2018.Some of the listed priests escaped earthly justice by dying, while others were removed from their positions of power over unsuspecting children and unwitting churchgoers.