NY archdiocese offers compensation program for abuse victims

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. Dolan helped to announce a new program intended to provide reconciliation and compensation for victims of sexual abuse by clergy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced a compensation program Thursday for victims of sex abuse by priests who are willing to forego lawsuits in exchange for an award to be determined by an independent mediator.

“One sin, one crime, one scandal has gravely wounded us in the church, the sexual abuse of young people by clergy,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in unveiling the program.

Some advocates for sex abuse victims assailed the compensation plan as an attempt to quash cases quickly, before New York’s legislature acts on a proposal to make it easier for victims to sue over abuse that happened years ago.

Under the plan, people with abuse claims already pending with the archdiocese will have until Jan. 31 to apply for compensation.

Dolan said about 200 people have made allegations against about 40 priests, and 30 of those victims already have agreed to voluntary settlements.

A second phase starting Feb. 1 will be open to new applicants, who will be asked for supporting documentation such as evidence that they complained about the abuse at the time it occurred.

Mediators Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros will evaluate the claims and decide who will be paid.

There will be no cap on compensation, and the archdiocese has agreed to pay whatever amount Feinberg and Biros order. Each complaint will be shared with the relevant district attorney for possible prosecution, Dolan said.

Feinberg served a similar role in deciding compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. He has also helped mediate claims in the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal and overseen funds for the victims of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill.

His involvement didn’t assuage church critics.

A representative of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests blasted the plan as “too little, too late.”

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Massachusetts-based BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group that collects records on abusive priests, said New York’s “restrictive statute of limitations has enabled Dolan to hide the true scope of the clergy abuse crisis in the NY archdiocese.” She wrote in an email, “His proposed victims’ compensation fund is another tactic designed to fend off disclosure.”

New York state lawmakers have long debated extending the statute of limitations on suing child sex abusers or creating a window of opportunity for past victims to file civil suits against abusers. Such proposals have faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other institutions.

The leading proposal in the Legislature would eliminate the statute of limitations for several child sexual abuse crimes going forward and create a one-year window for past victims to file civil suits. Victims now have until they turn 23 to file lawsuits, but supporters say it can take years before victims step forward. In May, an attempt by supporters in the state Senate to force a vote on the measure failed.

Marci Hamilton, the CEO of CHILD USA, a think tank dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect, said the compensation program announced Thursday does not eliminate the need for legislative action on the statute of limitations but it will nonetheless provide “another pathway for justice.”

“It is a smart way to increase access to some kind of compensation for victims who probably wouldn’t be able to handle the rigors of the legal system,” Hamilton said.

Dolan said the archdiocese would take out a long-term loan to cover compensation payments and would not dip into funds contributed by church members to support parishes, schools or charitable works.

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