Target 11 receives more complaints about Pittsburgh Diocese Compensation Fund

PITTSBURGH — After a Target 11 Investigation into the independent compensation fund established by the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese to pay victims of clergy sex abuse, Investigator Rick Earle received more complaints about the diocese.

Several victims of clergy sex abuse reached out to Target 11 and expressed concern about a lack of response by the diocese. Three victims said they reached out to the diocese after the grand jury report on clergy sex abuse was released and they said they never got any response. The men, all of whom are in their 50′s and 60′s now, said there were abused by the same priest at a church in Lawrenceville. All three said they left their contact information with the diocese but never got a response.

Two of the victims did not want their names used, but both expressed frustration and concern with the process. A third victim decided to speak publicly about the alleged abuse and his efforts to contact the diocese.

“I called the 800 number, nobody reached out to me. They took my name and that was the end of it,” said Rich Westwood, from his home in North Carolina.

Westwood said he called the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese after the release of the statewide grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. He said he got a recording and left all his contact information, but never heard anything more.

He wasn’t offered a settlement.

Westwood said what’s even more troubling about the lack of a response is that approximately five years before the grand jury report came out, he called the diocese for the first time and outlined the abuse he claimed he suffered by Father Ferdinand Demsher at St. Mary Assumption Catholic Church in Lawrenceville beginning in the late 60′s and continuing into the mid 70′s. Westwood was an altar boy at the church.

“I think it started around third grade, and it lasted until I was 14 or 15,” Westwood said.

Westwood said he was repeatedly sexually molested and abused by Demsher, who’s among the priests identified in the grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The report indicated the multiple people accused Demsher of sexual abuse.

He said he never told his parents or siblings, but he did tell a relative. He said it didn’t stop the abuse.

“The only one I told was my Aunt. At the time, it’s kind of touchy because you have to go back to how it was, but it’s the priest and nuns, they walked on water,” he said.

Westwood eventually moved away from Pittsburgh. He said the abuse took a tremendous toll on him.

“I grew up saying it was my fault until I realized hey I didn’t’ do anything wrong, but it really put my family through hell,” he said.

Father Ferdinand Demsher, the priest Westwood said abused him, died in 1983. Westwood said it took time, but he’s managed to turn his life around.

“I mean he stole my youth. He stole me growing up. and I’m sorry he’s dead because it’s not, you know, he’s not getting any justice where he is at,” Westwood said.

When Westwood never heard back from the diocese, he decided to get an attorney to pursue legal action. He’s still waiting for legal decisions that would allow him to file a lawsuit against the diocese.

“I want to see them live up to it. Quit hiding it because it did happen. I mean I need the bishop, he needs to take responsibility and not to say you know sorry, not to say that, you know the priests and that. It’s not the priests. Half of the priests are dead. It’s the victims and he needs to own up to it,” he said.

Target 11 reached out to the diocese earlier this week and asked why the victims never received any response. Here is the diocese’s statement:

“Although to protect the privacy of victims-survivors we don’t comment on specific cases, our policy has always been to reach out to anyone who contacts us through the victims’ assistance coordinator. We’ve always taken these calls very seriously. We take seriously our obligation to turn over claims to proper civil authorities.

We also want to make sure people understand what the fund is and how it operated. The Diocese of Pittsburgh established the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) in January of 2019. The goal of the Program was to seek to promote healing by providing compensation to victims-survivors of abuse by priests or deacons of the diocese. The deadline to submit claims to the IRCP was September 30, 2019. The program was completely managed by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros of the Feinberg Group.

Individuals who chose to voluntarily participate in the program were able to register through a website and download forms to help them provide details of the nature of their claim. Any issues with access to claim materials were handled by the Feinberg Group. Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros retained complete and sole discretion over eligibility and all compensation offers to eligible victims who participated in the Program.”