The Archdiocese of New York, one of the country's largest Roman Catholic diocese, this week announced that it will compensate victims of sexual abuse who have not already settled claims with the church. People abused by New York clergy as minors can apply for monetary compensation through the new Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
"I wish I would have done this quite a while ago,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the NY Times in an interview. "I just finally thought: 'Darn it, let's do it. I'm tired of putting it off.'"
At a Thursday press conference, Cardinal Dolan told reporters that sexual abuse was "one sin, one crime, one scandal that has gravely wounded us in the church."
Kenneth Feinberg, one of the fund's administrators, also administered the United States' compensation fund for victims of 9/11. "We hope the program will be successful and that victims will come forward in a timely fashion to participate," he said in a statement.
The fund will recommend an appropriate payment for each victim, which the church will pay in full. There's no set cap for compensation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the church is taking out a long-term loan to compensate the victims, so as not to tap into donations for individual parishes, schools, and other charity work.
As the Year of Mercy closes, we are introducing a program designed to bring healing and peace to victims of abuse in the Archdiocese of NY. pic.twitter.com/xVoYUQjI9E
— Cardinal Dolan (@CardinalDolan) October 6, 2016
But the new program, which a press release from the archdiocese stresses is voluntary, is not without stipulations. Most troubling to advocates is the fact that victims who opt for the money must sign releases relinquishing the right to sue the church over sexual abuse allegations.
"Ultimately, this move is aimed at keeping the public in the dark about the true scope of the Catholic abuse crisis in New York," Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the watchdog group BishopAccountability.org, told the Washington Post.
The first phase of the program, which will take applications through next January 31st, is open to the 170 people who have made sexual abuse complaints against the church to date, but have not been compensated. A second phase will be open to applicants who have not previously brought complaints against the church.
New York has particularly strict statute-of-limitations laws when it comes to pursuing sexual abuse suits, advocates say. For civil cases, the state requires victims to come forward with allegations by the time they are 23 years old. The Child Victims Act, which the church has actively lobbied against, would lift that statute of limitations.
"We've seen the pattern time and time again across the country," David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told the Times. "Whenever statute of limitations reform is making real progress, bishops take these steps, in essence, to say to lawmakers, 'Hey, back off, we're handling this ourselves.'"
Cardinal Dolan also has a history of alleged attempts to protect the church from the costly fallout of sexual abuse cases. Back in 2013, documents released by the Milwaukee archdiocese—where Dolan served as Archbishop —showed that he had moved $57 million in church funds into a private trust, allegedly to protect it from lawsuits by alleged sex abuse victims. The files also revealed the archdiocese had reassigned priests who were accused of sexual molestation. An attorney representing alleged victims said at the time that the transferred funds were meant to "pay off some of the offenders to quietly go away."
Dolan dismissed those allegations as "groundless and scurrilous."