California dioceses create clergy abuse compensation program
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Six Roman Catholic dioceses in California are creating a program to compensate people who were sexually abused by priests as children, in return for them promising not to sue.
The program announced Tuesday includes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego. Together, they cover 36 counties and some 10 million Catholics, or about 80% of the state’s Catholics.
The compensation program is “part of our effort to own and atone for the Church’s failure to protect children and young people abused by Catholic priests,” Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto said in a statement.
The diocese expects the program to begin before the end of summer, spokesman Kevin Eckery told the Sacramento Bee .
The compensation program will cover abuse committed by priests in the six dioceses but not victims of other diocesan employees, such as schoolteachers, or clergy from other dioceses or religious orders.
Those who accept compensation agree not to file lawsuits over abuse. They also can’t have previously resolved a lawsuit over the same allegations. However, the program is open to those who are barred from suing by statutes of limitations because the abuse occurred too long ago. It also will be open to anyone whether or not they are in the country legally.
The program will be independently administered by Washington, D.C., attorneys Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros and an oversight board that includes former California Gov. Gray Davis and Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, according to a statement from Feinberg’s firm.
Over the past two decades, California dioceses have paid nearly $1.5 billion in settlements to thousands of abuse victims.
It was unclear how much abuse survivors could receive under the compensation program.
“Until we have a sense of how many victims come forward and what the range of damages is, we just don’t have dollar figures,” Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the attorneys, told the Bee.
However, she said Feinberg and Biros have run similar programs for dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado and the programs in New York and Pennsylvania have paid out a total of $250 million.
Claims can be submitted through a website that is still being developed.
The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, urged victims to use the justice system.
“We believe that the best way to expose wrongdoing and enforce accountability is for crimes to be made public and for punishment and compensation to be meted out by courts, not the institutions that allowed the wrongdoing to happen in the first place,” the group said in a statement.