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Sex abuse claims involving Catholic Church: Who pays?

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As the Catholic Church in New York gears up to address hundreds – potentially thousands – of sex abuse claims, one question looms large: Where will the payouts come from?

The Church is anticipating a wave of sex abuse claims when the one-year window opens under the Child Victims Act next month. The Act gives survivors of childhood abuse a limited period of time to file lawsuits that would otherwise be time-barred. While it covers claims against any organization or institution, the Catholic Church will likely be most heavily impacted, with some sources estimating as many of 2,500 individual claims against the Church and tens of millions of dollars in payouts.

Getting coverage for the claims

How can the Catholic Church pay out such massive claims without going bankrupt? The answer lies with insurance.

The Catholic Church – and many other religious organizations – have both general liability policies and sexual misconduct coverage. Depending on the date of the alleged misconduct and the surrounding circumstances, both types of coverage could potentially come into play.

Taking a proactive stance on the matter, the New York Archdiocese recently sued dozens of its insurers to compel coverage. The lawsuit claims that the insurers have indicated an intent to deny or limit coverage for the coming wave of sex abuse claims. The Church seeks a court order upholding their duty to provide coverage.

What the lawsuit means for victims

The lawsuit is arguably a positive development for survivors. It means the Catholic Church is getting serious about securing coverage so it can adequately pay out claims. Without that coverage, survivors could be left empty-handed (or with lowball settlements that don’t adequately address the injustice and harm they’ve suffered).

While the New York Archdiocese is (so far) stepping up to the plate, will the insurance companies do the same? Only time will tell.

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