National News

California Dioceses Start Pay Program for Abuse Victims

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles: “I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.” (Photo: Catholic News Service)

by Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent

(Crux) NEW YORK – Six of California’s Catholic dioceses – including the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest – announced on May 14 that it was launching an Independent Compensation Program for survivors of clergy sex abuse.

The program will be designed and managed by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, national mediation experts who managed the compensation payouts to victims of September 11th attacks and the Boston marathon bombing.

Feinberg and Biros have implemented similar programs for the Archdiocese of New York, the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, all five dioceses in New Jersey and another five in Pennsylvania.

Along with Los Angeles, the Dioceses of Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Fresno will participate in the program, constituting nearly 80 percent of the state’s Catholics.

Such programs are voluntary and allow for victims to pursue their claims outside of court, often relying on a lower standard of evidence to expedite the process. Victims whose cases fall outside the statute of limitations are allowed to seek compensation under the program, as are undocumented migrants.

Feinberg and Biros will decide compensation amounts, and the program will be managed by former Governor Gray Davis and business leader and former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet, along with an oversight board.

A statement released by the California Catholic Conference said that the “six dioceses will be reaching out to victims who have previously reported allegations of abuse to alert them to this new program. In addition, the program will invite others who may have been abused to also come forward.”

In an April essay in the New Yorker, religion writer Paul Elie wrote that Feinberg and Biros’ “model for reconciliation and compensation is becoming the standard approach to priestly sexual abuse,” observing that 2 out of 5 dioceses in the country now rely on such programs.

In a letter May 14, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said, “I apologize to the victims of priest sexual abuse and express my deep sorrow and regret for our past failures and the trust that was broken. I realize, as you do, that no program, however well-intentioned and well-designed, can repair the damage done to victims and their families. But I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.”

According to the California Catholic Conference, plans for the new program have been underway since last fall and a launch date is still being finalized.

To date, nearly $1.5 billion has been paid out to survivors of clerical sex abuse in California.