Diocese of Fresno among 6 to start fund for abuse victims. Some call it ‘suspicious’

The Diocese of Fresno, along with five other Catholic dioceses, is slated to start a new compensation fund for victims of sex abuse that will be operated independently from the church, officials announced Tuesday.

Those other dioceses across California include the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, plus dioceses in Orange, San Bernandino, Sacramento and San Diego counties, according to a news release from the six bishops representing those regions.

Those six dioceses serve about 80 percent of the state’s Catholic population, roughly 10 million people.

SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) released a statement urging victims to be cautious before seeking compensation through the new initiative.

“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 advocacy group said in its Tuesday statement.

Joey Piscitelli, with SNAP, said the timing of the program, amid ongoing investigations, made it suspicious.

“It may not be in the best interest of the victims,” he told The Bee. “I think that’s suspicious because they are doing damage control. I think what they are doing is offsetting the bad publicity.”

According to the press release, the program is voluntary, and victims can still file claims against the church in court.

The program will be developed by two mediators, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, and will be overseen by a board. The oversight board members include former Gov. Gray Davis and Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the release said.

Victims, regardless of immigration status, will be able to seek compensation later this year. The program will not set any time limitations for when the alleged sex abuse occurred.

All six dioceses will be reaching out to people who have reported allegations of sex abuse in the past, and make them aware of the program.

Teresa Dominguez, chancellor with the Diocese of Fresno, declined to say how many reports of abuse have been made to the diocese in the past, and how many people the diocese will be reaching out to for this program.

Dioceses in California have paid about $1.5 billion to thousands of victims in the last two decades, the release says.

Five priests in the Diocese of Fresno are currently on leave, pending investigations into accusations of abuse. The diocese, which covers Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Madera, Merced, Mariposa and Inyo counties, serves an estimated 1.2 million Catholics.

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