Catholic Church Clergy Sex Abuse Settlements

Pope in the church

Several in-depth investigations have uncovered the rampant problem of clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

The 2015 film Spotlight portrayed one of the most well known of these investigations, which uncovered decades of abuse by Boston Catholic clergy and the concerted effort by church officials to cover up the abuse.

To date, the Catholic Church has settled numerous sexual abuse claims against accused priests, paying out more than $3 billion in total.

To compensate abuse survivors, many dioceses have either settled with victims out of court or created victim compensation funds. Some have filed for bankruptcy to compensate victims.

But clergy abuse victims who receive compensation through out-of-court settlements, compensation funds, or bankruptcy court proceedings often receive far less than they would through a successful Catholic priest abuse lawsuit led by an experienced child sex abuse attorney.

And settlements don’t necessarily equal justice for the victims of sexual abuse. Too often, they end up protecting abuse perpetrators by effectively buying silence from victims.

If you or someone you love is a clergy sex abuse survivor, the attorneys at Saunders & Walker P.A. encourage you to contact us for a free and confidential case evaluation.

What Is the Average Settlement for Clergy Abuse Victims?

In an analysis by, past settlements have ranged from as little as $23,000 (per claimant) to more than $3.4 million. The average settlement amount is approximately $268,000.

Settlement amounts are based on a variety of factors, including how long the abuse went on and the long-term impacts to the victim.

It’s not uncommon for child sex abuse survivors to experience lifelong psychological or physical consequences of being sexually abused.

As adults, victims may experience health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or unwanted pregnancy. They may also struggle with psychological issues like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), low self-esteem, and increased risk of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

Treating these conditions can be costly. It’s why child sex abuse settlement amounts often factor in the cost of treatments for mental and physical injuries resulting from the abuse.

Catholic settlements may also include non-monetary provisions, such as issuing apologies to the victims or removing the offending clergy member from the priesthood.

What Is the Largest Ever Catholic Church Settlement Amount?

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles paid $660 million to settle claims with 508 victims of clergy abuse. It is the largest clergy sex abuse settlement to date. Each claimant received approximately $1.3 million.

The agreement effectively put an end to all pending litigation against the Archdiocese at the time. Some of the victims in that case had waited for more than five decades for reconciliation, according to the main attorney for the plaintiffs.

The next largest clergy sexual abuse settlements include those reached in Portland, Oregon ($129 million) and in Boston ($85 million).

The most recent proposed settlement involves the New Jersey Catholic diocese. If approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge, the settlement would pay $87.5 million to settle the claims of around 300 alleged abuse victims.

How Settlements & Victim Compensation Funds Can Conceal Abuse

Out-of-court settlements often benefit the Church by helping dioceses avoid costly and time-consuming litigation—and by concealing child sexual abuse committed by their priests.

For example, some of the earliest clergy sex abuse settlements included confidentiality agreements prohibiting victims from publicly speaking about the abuse they endured.

Victim compensation funds often have the same silencing effect on victims. And payments from these funds are often meager compared to what a victim might receive with a favorable court verdict.

California’s Independent Compensation Program (ICP) is a prime example of how settlement funds are often used to silence victims.

In 2019, six California dioceses created the program to compensate victims outside of the legal system. But victims who accepted funds through the program were required to forfeit their right to pursue legal action. As of February 29, 2020, the ICP is no longer accepting new claims.

Can an Attorney Help Me?

There is no substitute for sound legal advice. If you or someone you love suffered abuse from a priest or other clergy member, the experienced clergy sex abuse lawyers at Saunders & Walker P.A. may be able to help.

Our firm can help you understand all your options. If you have a case, we can help you negotiate a fair and substantial settlement agreement.

We understand the sensitive nature of clergy sex abuse cases and the importance of confidentiality. You can expect us to handle your inquiry with sensitivity, respect, and discretion.

Contact us today at (727) 579-4500 to speak to one of our experienced clergy sex abuse attorneys.


How much can I get in a clergy sex abuse case?

Every case is different, so it’s important to contact an attorney who has experience handling clergy sex abuse claims.

The amount of compensation is determined by a variety of factors, including the age of the victim, the extent of the victim’s injuries (physical and psychological), medical treatments and expenses resulting from the clergy sex abuse, and whether the victim’s injuries are permanent, among others.

Contact the attorneys at Saunders & Walker P.A. today at (727) 579-4500 for more information on how we may be able to help you. The call and consultation are completely confidential.

Will my identity remain confidential if I pursue legal action?

In cases that go to trial, the victim’s identity may become public. However, it’s important to know that simply inquiring about a claim is confidential. Your identity will remain confidential unless you give permission.  

My religion teaches forgiveness. Should I just forgive my abuser and move on?

A victim of clergy sexual abuse may feel a sense of closure after forgiving their abuser. But the decision to forgive an abuser doesn’t preclude a victim from pursuing a legal case.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse often face long-term challenges because of the abuse, which may include medical treatments and ongoing therapy costs.

Clergy members and religious organizations should be held responsible for their actions, inactions, and the consequences that victims suffer as a result. Taking action may also help prevent abusive clergy members from harming others in the future.

What are non-monetary provisions in a Catholic Church abuse settlement?

Clergy abuse survivors often seek non-monetary provisions in a settlement to gain a sense of closure. Non-monetary means no money is exchanged.

Common non-monetary provisions include requiring the diocese or the clergy member to apologize, requiring the diocese to make confidential church records public, setting up a hotline for sex abuse victims, and improving policies to better protect victims of abuse.

*All Communications with our firm are strictly confidential