New York City, N.Y., Oct 7, 2016 / 01:06 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced Thursday that the New York archdiocese is establishing an independent compensation program for victims of sexual abuse committed by clergy of the local Church.
“This program will, please God, continue to help bring a measure of peace to those who have suffered abuse by a member of the clergy of the archdiocese,” the Archbishop of New York wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to the faithful. “While the Church … has made great strides in dealing vigorously with clergy accused of abuse, and in preventing acts of abuse through our Safe Environment programs, we continue to hear from victim-survivors that more needs to be done to reach out to those who have been harmed in the past.”
He added, “As this Year of Mercy nears its conclusion, it is fitting and proper that we take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for mistakes that have been made by those — only a tiny percentage of our priests — representing the Church, and seek reconciliation with those who have been hurt and feel alienated from the Church.”
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program will be headed by Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney and mediator who led the Sept. 11 victims' fund, and who will be assisted by Camille Biros. They will determine issuance and amount of compensation to be given to victims. The Archdiocese of New York has said the compensation “will be just and fair, based on the experience and judgment of Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros,” and that it will “fully cover compensation awarded by the IRCP at whatever amount that is determined to be.”
Those who accept financial compensation waive their right to sue the archdiocese for more money over the abuse. “Beginning immediately, they will work with those individuals who have previously notified the archdiocese that they suffered abuse,” Cardinal Dolan wrote. “We are contacting these individuals to invite them to participate in the program.”
Having completed that work, Feinberg and Biros are to begin reviewing new allegations against archdiocesan clergy in a process that will include the district attorney as well as independent investigators and a lay review board. Those who have already brought forward sex abuse allegations to the archdiocese and who have not yet been otherwise compensated — about 170 persons — must apply for compensation under the program by Jan. 31, 2017. Those who have not already reached out to the archdiocese over sex abuse allegations are not bound by the Jan. 31 deadline.
Feinberg commented: “We hope the program will be successful and that any victims of abuse come forward in a timely fashion to seek compensation through this independent program.” The progress of the compensation program will be tracked by an independent oversight committee, “although the decisions reached by Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros regarding compensation to victim-survivors are final and cannot be appealed or overturned by the archdiocese or the Independent Oversight Committee,” the cardinal said.
The oversight committee will be composed of Raymond Kelly, a former New York City police commissioner; Loretta Preska, a federal district judge; and Dr. Jeanette Cueva, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. Kelly commended Cardinal Dolan for “his proactive leadership in redressing the wrongs committed in the past by some clergy in the New York Archdiocese” and added, “I'm honored to support the IRCP as it seeks to provide justice and restitution to victims of abuse.”
Cardinal Dolan continued in his letter that “I hear from you, my people, that, while still bruised and angry about this past crisis, you do appreciate very much the reform and progress that has been made. But, you also tell me that more outreach needs to be done to the victim-survivors. I hope this helps.” He noted that the compensatory funds will be borrowed in a long-term loan “to be paid back gradually by scraping to find income from sources not designated for specific Church or charitable use.” They will come from neither money given to parishes and schools nor the archdiocese's capital campaign or stewardship appeal.
Joseph Zwilling, communications director of the New York archdiocese, told the Wall Street Journal that the loan would be repaid with other assets, such as investments. New York state has recently considered changing its law regarding the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases to make it less restrictive on lawsuits. The New York Catholic Conference has lobbied against the effort, saying that while they support increasing the statute of limitations, the proposed legislation was too broad, because it allowed for a limitless window, even over allegations from more than half a century ago, in which the alleged perpetrators were no longer living.
“This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed,” the conference said.
Cardinal Dolan concluded his letter announcing the program, saying, “May I ask your prayers that this outreach might accomplish its goal of helping bring peace and reconciliation to those victim-survivors who have not only experienced the horror of abuse, but have also felt as if they were abandoned by the Church.”