The Diocese of Rockville Centre on Monday unveiled an independent compensation program for victims of clergy sexual abuse, a move that is likely to involve dozens of victims and cost the diocese millions of dollars.
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program is similar to ones started over the past year in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Under the program, victims deemed eligible for financial compensation must agree not to pursue legal action against the church in the future in order to collect.
“With this program we are making a major commitment to the ongoing healing of survivors of acts of child sexual abuse committed by clergy,” said Bishop John Barres, spiritual leader of the diocese of 1.5 million Catholics, in a statement released Monday.
“We as a Church recognize that no amount of monetary compensation could ever erase or undo the grave harm suffered by survivors of child abuse,” Barres said. “Still, we embrace Christ’s healing power and the Mission of Mercy of the Catholic Church as we begin our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program.”
The program will be administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, who currently is in charge of the funds in New York and Brooklyn, and Camille Biros, a business manager in his Washington, D.C., law firm who also has been closely involved in administering those and other funds. The two will independently determine who is eligible for compensation and how much money will be offered in Rockville Centre.
Feinberg also has administered the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, as well as compensation programs stemming from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and abuse claims brought against Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach.
“I think it is a wonderful step that the diocese is taking,” Biros said in an interview. “It follows two very successful programs which are still ongoing in Brooklyn and New York.”
The programs are “a recognition that there was wrongdoing and I think that’s what a lot of the claimants . . . are pleased about after all these years,” she said.
More than 200 cases have been settled in New York and Brooklyn out of 437 received so far, Biros said. To date no offer of compensation has been rejected by an alleged victim, she added.
It was not immediately clear how many victims will come forward in Rockville Centre, but Manhattan-based attorney Michael Dowd said he has 35 clients claiming clergy sex abuse in the diocese.
Dowd, who also is handling cases in Brooklyn and New York, said settlements accepted by his clients in the Archdiocese of New York’s program generally have ranged from the low- to mid-six figures, though he believes some in the Diocese of Brooklyn could exceed $1 million.
Rockville Centre said it will pay the compensation “by using funds from investment returns over time and insurance programs.”
The Archdiocese of New York announced its compensation program in October 2016, followed by the Diocese of Brooklyn in June.
Rockville Centre also said an Independent Oversight Committee will monitor implementation and administration of its program. Its three members include the Honorable A. Gail Prudenti, dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University and former chief administrative judge of the Courts of New York State; Michael Cardello III, a partner with the law firm of Moritt Hock & Hamroff; and Thomas Demaria, director of the Psychological Services Center of the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at LIU Post.
Two weeks ago, Rockville Centre sent out letters to people who previously had filed complaints with diocesan officials, informing them that a compensation program would be announced later in the month.
The news was met with both praise and skepticism among some lawyers for clergy sex abuse victims and victims themselves.
“This is clearly a step in the right direction,” Dowd said. “It can’t possibly . . . make up for all the suffering that people have endured. [But] it’s clearly better than nothing.”
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based attorney who represents victims in Boston and New York, said he will recommend to his clients that they participate in the program if they think it will help them heal.
But he also said he believes it is an effort by the Catholic Church in New York to act before state legislators lift a statute of limitations that requires victims of child sex abuse to file charges before they turn 23.
That could open the church to scores of lawsuits and potentially tens of millions of dollars in damages. It could also require the church to release information detailing the abuse including names of priests.
“The Catholic Church is feeling the heat with regard to the pending statute of limitations issues in the legislature and they are reacting to it,” said Garabedian, who was portrayed by actor Stanley Tucci in the 2015 film “Spotlight” about the church sex abuse scandal in Boston. “You have an entity that has allowed the wholesale sexual abuse of innocent children by priests for decades upon decades. They are not all of a sudden nice people.”
In response, diocesan spokesman Sean Dolan said: “Until the Archdiocese of New York announced its IRCP in October of 2016, it was not clear that a program like this could work in a diocese of our size. After substantial study, and once it became clear that it could work, Bishop Barres determined that this is the right thing to do.”
Dowd said he does not think the statute of limitations will be altered anytime soon. The Catholic Church has lobbied against efforts to overturn the law, saying it could nearly bankrupt the church.
Tom McGarvey, 52, a Jamaica resident who alleges he was abused by a priest in the diocese when he was 16 to 24 years old, and has suffered many personal and professional problems since then, said, “I’d rather have a victims sex abuse act passed” lifting the statute of limitations.
But he said he plans to participate in the diocese’s program. “At least I can put it [the abuse] behind me and move forward,” he said. “Then I could go on with my life.”
Rockville Centre’s program, like the ones in Brooklyn and New York, will operate in two phases.
In phase one, starting Monday, alleged victims who previously had reported abuse to church officials can apply for compensation, the diocese said. In phase two, anticipated to start in January 2018, alleged victims who never had reported allegations of abuse can apply.
Victims who are awarded compensation can choose to reject it and pursue other legal options on their own.
“We encourage survivors of abuse to come forward in a timely fashion to seek compensation through this independent program,” Feinberg said in a statement.
Both Dowd and Biros said they believe the model adopted by the three dioceses could spread to others around the state.
“You are going into the three biggest dioceses in New York and you are finding out that it works,” Dowd said. “It’s doing something for victims.”