Overshadowed by the storm of protest and criticism directed at the Catholic Church involving claims of clergy sexual abuse suffered by minors is an innovative independent compensation program established by a group of dioceses throughout New York State.
Created in 2016 at the request of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (“IRCP”) was initially limited to the New York Archdiocese (Manhattan, the Bronx
The objective: to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse of minors by acknowledging the abuse and promoting some degree of reconciliation between the Church and its innocent victims.
These programs, funded entirely by each diocese without any use of public funds, should be considered by other dioceses, not only across New York State but nationwide.
The process is completely voluntary; no victim is required to participate.
Second, each of these dioceses has delegated to the two of us independent authority to decide eligibility and the amount of compensation to be offered to the victim. There is no second-guessing or interference by the Church.
Third, the programs’ proof requirements are lenient. In filing a claim, the victim need only offer some credible evidence of sexual abuse, such as medical records, or a report from a psychiatrist or therapist confirming treatment.
Evidence can also include information that the named priest was a repeat offender, or correspondence or other documentation previously sent to the diocese — in some cases decades ago.
Finally, each individual claimant is also offered an option to be heard in a confidential meeting either before or after our decision is rendered. This has proven to be an important feature: the opportunity, at the option of the victim, to meet with us in a private setting to discuss the abuse and its
Claimants sign a formal release precluding them from suing the respective diocese only if the compensation offered is accepted. Until then, they reserve all rights to reject the offer and pursue other alternatives.
These compensation programs have proven to be remarkably successful. More than 1,260 individual claims have been filed with the various programs, more than 1,100 determinations have been made, and more than 980 individuals have accepted the offered compensation.
We have distributed some $200 million to date.
The funds provide victims with an alternative to conventional litigation — which is time consuming, costly, inefficient and uncertain. Eligible claimants can be compensated in just a few months and are provided a degree of certainty often absent in the courtroom.
At the same time, the model is an important alternative for the Catholic Church, demonstrating the desire of the Church to admit error and attempt to promote some degree of reconciliation, while also providing it with some degree of financial certainty.
These arguments are often lost among critics who urge elected officials to reopen the statutes of limitations, permitting abused victims a fresh opportunity to sue for sexual abuse that often occurred decades ago.
That would result in a rush to the courtroom. Some litigants first in line may receive the compensation they seek — bankrupting some dioceses in the process — while others will wait at the end of the line, limited to pennies on the dollar in the bankruptcy court.
And in court, higher standards of proof, the absence of corroborating witnesses, and the costs and delay of a trial make for a very uncertain result.
For most, compensation funds are a better way forward.