By Patrick Donachie
The New York Catholic Archdiocese announced last week it would initiate a process that could provide compensation for survivors of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of diocesan priests, and a Queens assemblywoman who has advocated for victims cautiously praised it as a positive first step.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, praised the newly established Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which would be headed by mediator Ken Feinberg. He would be able to make decisions on culpability and compensation without the purview or approval of the church. Feinberg was the master of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
“As this Year of Mercy nears its conclusion, it is only appropriate that we take this opportunity to ask forgiveness for mistakes made in the past by those representing the church, myself and my predecessors included, and seek reconciliation with those who have been harmed and feel alienated from the church because of its past conduct,” Dolan said.
The Archdiocese, which includes churches in Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx and parts of upstate, will proceed with reaching out to individuals who have made a claim against the Archdiocese regarding a sexual abuse allegation, and will also begin investigating new allegations against known offenders or against clergy who have not previously been accused of abuse.
State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) worked for nearly a decade to pass the Child Victims Act, which would change the current statute of limitations for child sex crimes. Presently, an accuser has until the age of 23 to file a civil or criminal claim against abusers. The bill is a priority for Democratic senators this session.
“This announcement by the Archdiocese of New York, while welcome news, is a long overdue acknowledgment of its moral responsibility to victims of child sexual abuse,” she said. “In 2015, before he made his historic visit to New York, I appealed to Pope Francis to use the occasion of his visit to intervene with our New York Bishops to accept their responsibility to past victims of abuse and future generations of children. With this announcement, it appears that process is beginning.”
Queens churches fall under the Diocese of Brooklyn, which is headed by Bishop Nicolas DiMarzio.
“We intend to closely study the implementation of the new reconciliation and compensation program launched by the Archdiocese of New York,” a spokeswoman for the diocese said. “We hope to learn from the program and determine what we may do moving forward in the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
The Brooklyn diocese also provides referrals for counseling and has an advisory committee made up of survivors.
To receive a compensation decision through the mediation process, anyone who receives money from a claim “must surrender any right to go to court to sue any party relating to the alleged sexual abuse,” according to the program’s website. David Clohessy, the executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, questioned the Archdiocese’s approach.
“Why must survivors give away all their legal options just to get some healing, decades later, from the institution that recruited, educated, trained, ordained and supervised pedophile priests while almost always hiding them, transferring them and protecting them?” he said.
The archdiocese pledged to take a long-term loan that would cover the compensation costs, and would not use money given by parishioners for schools, churches and charity to pay back the loan.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona