California Catholic dioceses to launch compensation fund for priest abuse survivors

Six California Catholic dioceses, including Sacramento and Fresno, will create a compensation program for victims sexually abused by priests as children.

The Independent Victims Compensation Program is intended to make it easier for victims to receive monetary compensation for abuse cases that may have occurred many years ago, and for victims fearful of pursuing their case in court.

“As part of our effort to own and atone for the Church’s failure to protect children and young people abused by Catholic priests (the program will) provide material compensation for pain and suffering they have experienced because of their abuse,” Bishop Jaime Soto of the Sacramento Diocese said in a statement.

The compensation program – which also includes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the Dioceses of Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego – comes just weeks after the Sacramento Diocese released the identities of more than 40 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing about 130 victims in the last 70 years.

The program is independent from the Catholic church and will be run by attorneys Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille Biros of Washington, D.C., who will have “complete autonomy” to determine the eligibility of and compensation amounts for victims, said Sacramento Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery.

The dioceses have agreed to approve Feinberg and Biros’ decisions and compensation awards, which are not subject to appeal, according to a press release from the group.

It’s unclear how large the compensation awards, paid for by diocesan funds or insurance, will be. Settlement offers for other sex abuse cases tied to priests range from a few thousand dollars to the hundreds of thousands.

“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,” said Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Feinberg and Biros.

Feinberg and Biros, two claims administration experts hired by California diocese leadership last November, run similar abuse compensation programs covering Catholic dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado. Victims’ funds in New York and Pennsylvania have paid out a combined $250 million to date, Weiss said.

Victims of priest abuse tied to the participating dioceses can file a claim, regardless of when the abuse occurred, through the program’s website, which is still being finalized and has not been released yet.

The Sacramento Diocese expects the program to begin before the end of summer, Eckery said. The one-time settlements could be offered and completed within 90 days. There are no fees.

The program does not include those abused by deacons, church employees or members of affiliated religious orders, such as Catholic schoolteachers or Jesuit brothers.

Members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, stated they appreciated the program, but urged victims to expose crimes to the public and pursue justice through courts, “not the institutions that allowed the wrongdoing to happen in the first place.”

“Survivors deserve a chance to have their day in court and shed light on their abuse, and that can only happen when statutes of limitations are reformed, civil windows are opened, and bishops are held accountable in courts of law,” SNAP stated in a press release Tuesday.

Accepting the compensation award through the program is, in effect, a settlement, Eckery said, meaning victims will not be able to sue for the same case. SNAP stated that the practice removes “legal tools in the future that can compel dioceses to release information or correct misinformation.”

California Catholic dioceses have paid close to $1.5 billion in settlements to thousands of abuse victims over the last 20 years.

“No amount of money can make up for the evil done to victims of priestly sex abuse,” Soto said in a statement. “I acknowledge the pain that was caused, my shame and sorrow that it happened in the name of the Church, and my intention to help victim/survivors heal from that abuse.”

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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