(Updated Oct. 7)
By John Woods
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — The Archdiocese of New York has initiated a voluntary Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to promote healing and serve as a “tangible sign of the church’s outreach and reparation” by providing compensation to victim-survivors of sexual abuse as minors by clergy of the archdiocese.
The program was announced at a morning news conference Oct. 6 featuring Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and other speakers who will administer the program. It will be headed by nationally recognized mediator Kenneth Feinberg and will have an oversight committee, whose members include former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.
“It is unique in that we’re asking an outside, independent, acclaimed source to do it,” the cardinal said in response to a question about other dioceses that have instituted similar methods to compensate victims of abuse.
Cardinal Dolan explained that the Diocese of Albany had initiated a voluntary compensation program a decade ago, and that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee also had done so when he served as archbishop there before his appointment as Archbishop of New York in 2009.
The cardinal, in his remarks, noted the comprehensive and effective steps taken by the Catholic Church in the United States and local dioceses across the country in response to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors addressed in the bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which they adopted in 2002 and revised in 2005 and 2011.
Even with the progress to date, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged “the deep scars” and the need for “further healing and reconciliation” by “one group of members of the church’s family” — the victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
“The survivors tell us that while it’s not all about money, a tangible sign of the church’s outreach and reparation would be helpful,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Dolan said he is seeking to use the “grace of this moment,” which takes place during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, “to initiate an important further step in our efforts to reform the church.”
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program has already begun to reach out to victims who have previously notified the archdiocese that they had suffered abuse by a priest or deacon of the archdiocese to invite them to participate in the program’s phase 1, which is scheduled to continue until Jan. 31, 2017.
Cardinal Dolan, in his remarks at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, said that nearly 200 individuals have previously come forward with allegations of abuse by a member of the archdiocesan clergy. Allegations have been made against approximately 40 priests and deacons over the years, said the cardinal, who noted that no allegations of recent occurrences of abuse have been made in the past 15 years.
Approximately 30 victim-survivors have previously received compensation from the archdiocese, the cardinal said.
The archdiocese will take a long-term loan to cover the cost of compensation to victim-survivors. The archdiocesan Office of Communications, in a news release, said that the archdiocese would not use money given by the people of the archdiocese to support parishes, schools and charitable works, nor would it use funds from the annual Cardinal’s Stewardship Appeal, the newly initiated Renew and Rebuild capital campaign or money given by donors for a specific ministry or apostolate.
“We’ll have to do like any other family at a critical time,” Cardinal Dolan said. “We’ll borrow the money.”
The program will be administered by Feinberg, who is well known for his work as special master of the Federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and numerous other high-profile compensation funds. He will work closely with his associate, Camille Biros.
Along with Kelly, the other members of the Independent Oversight Committee are U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska and Dr. Jeanette Cueva, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.
At the news conference, Feinberg detailed some of the protocol’s “critical features,” including who is eligible and at what level of compensation. “Those issues lie solely in the power of the administrator,” Feinberg said. “His Eminence readily agreed to this.”
According to the protocol, participation in the IRCP “is completely voluntary and does not affect any rights the claimant may have unless and until the claimant accepts the compensation amount and signs a release after required consultation with a lawyer.”
Feinberg also said that the archdiocese has pledged to honor all individual and aggregate claims approved by the administrator. “There is authority to move forward,” he said.
Phase 2 of the compensation program, which is to begin Feb. 1, will review additional allegations brought against known offenders as well as any new allegations brought against clergy who have not previously had allegations of abuse made against them. Anyone bringing forward a new allegation will be required to follow the policy of the archdiocese to notify the appropriate district attorney’s office, so they can determine whether a crime has been committed. The archdiocesan lay review board will also examine such allegations.
Kelly said he wanted to commend Cardinal Dolan for his “proactive leadership in redressing the wrongs that were committed in the past by members of the clergy in the diocese,” and said that he was “honored to support, in any way I can, justice and restitution to those who were abused.”
He also complimented the archdiocese for putting in place “a highly regarded system for reporting to prevent anyone else from suffering the scourge, the horror of abuse,” and is very happy about the “strong partnership” that exists between the archdiocese and law enforcement, especially with the district attorneys in the 10 counties served by the archdiocese.
Oversight committee members will meet regularly with Feinberg and Biros to make sure the program’s goals are being met in a timely way, Kelly said.
“This committee will not be able to overturn a decision of the administrators as far as compensation is concerned,” he added. “That is solely within the purview of Mr. Feinberg.”
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Woods is editor-in-chief of Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.