Archdiocese rolls out plans to compensate abuse victims
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia Nov. 13 rolled out the details on their plan to set up a compensation fund for victims of sexual abuse — sending letters to more than 300 credible victims who reported being abused.
The independent program is established by the archdiocese to financially compensate victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of archdiocesan clergy, regardless of when it happened.
Victims have until Sept. 30, 2019, to file a claim at PhiladelphiaArchdioceseIRRP.com through the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program. If it is a new claim and not previously reported to the archdiocese, claimants have until July 31, 2019, to file.
Administrators stress the program is purely voluntary and independent and there are no caps on financial rewards. However, to receive the final financial reward, a victim must waive their rights to pursue any legal action against the church in the future.
“This program isn’t about bringing closure or about making victims whole,” Victim Support Facilitator Lynn Shiner said. “Sadly, that will never happen. Nor is it about restoring their faith in the Catholic church. It’s about acknowledging the pain, the unjust harm and the archdiocese’s failure to prevent that harm.”
The establishment of this special compensation panel comes on the heels of last summer’s damning state grand jury report that detailed more than 300 priests who abused more than 1,000 children for decades in six dioceses outside of Philadelphia. The grand jury recommended legislators open a two-year window for victims of decades-old abuse to file civil suits. The move, which passed the state House of Representatives but stalled in the state Senate, was opposed by the church. In response the Archdiocese of Philadelphia instead announced last week it had created the IRRP. Fifteen years ago, the Philadelphia archdiocese created its Office for Child and Youth Protection and has since spent more than $18 million to provide resources and care to victims identified here.
In 2005 and in 2011, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was the subject of similar grand jury investigations that found similar patterns of childhood sexual abuse. In both the Philadelphia and the more recent grand jury report covering six other Pennsylvania dioceses, the findings were similar. Not only were priests identified as sexual predators, but in both instances the grand jury determined church leaders actively covered up the abuse.
On Nov. 13, package of information, including applications, were sent to 342 identified victims from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to the program administrators.
Victims are encouraged to submit a claim to the IRRP through the applications provided on the website. If they so choose, the Victim Support Facilitator, Lynn Shiner, will be available to help them submit their claims. However, that is optional.
Shiner served for four years as director of the Office of Victims’ Services with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, where she oversaw the distribution of more than $100 million to victims of crime throughout the state. She also comes from a background of tragedy as a rape and domestic violence victim whose children, Jen, 10, and Dave, 8, were murdered by their father on Christmas Day in 1994.
Members of an Independent Oversight Committee that oversees the implementation of the IRRP also were introduced at the press conference. The panel consists of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, who chaired peace negotiations in Northern Ireland that led to the end of conflict there; former Chief Judge of the U.S. Eastern District Court Lawrence F. Stengel; and former Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge, who now works at the law firm of Elliott Greenleaf, P.C.
One of the partners of Elliott Greenleaf, state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf, R-12, of Montgomery County, has been a staunch opponent of reform to civil statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Those involved in the process, including Kenneth R. Feinberg, who was Special Master of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, emphasized the neutrality of the program and its participants.
Feinberg said it is completely voluntary for victims to participate in the IRRP or to accept a reward and added that not all victims want to pursue changing the law.
Mitchell said the IRRP process is separate from the Legislature and that the archdiocese has no control over their work.
Mitchell added, “We feel this represents an effort by the archdiocese and an opportunity for potential claimants to help them ameliorate, not to erase, the problems they’ve had in the past.”
Feinberg will work with Camille S. Biros as the two administrators who determine amounts of rewards for credible claims. Rewards will be based on a myriad of factors including the amount of documentation available, the age of the victim when the abuse occurred, the type of abuse, the frequency and whether drugs or alcohol were involved.
Both Feinberg and Biros served on the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund as well as other compensatory programs. For the past two years, they have worked as the fund administrators for the New York Archdiocese Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program and the Brooklyn Diocese and Rockville Centre Diocese Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs.
They will review the filed claims and determine what amount to award, if the case is deemed credible. If claimants want to meet either of them on the record or off, Feinberg said they would make themselves available by telephone or in person, whatever the claimant chooses.
Once a reward is established, a victim can either accept it or not. If they do, they waive their rights to any further civil action against the archdiocese. Feinberg said the reward amount is binding to the archdiocese and the Independent Oversight Committee. There is no appeal process.
“No amount of money is going to provide closure to that victim or satisfy the victim,” Feinberg said. “It is a small step in helping that victim secure some degree of financial security.”
He said he has found that validation is helpful to the victims.
“You have a right to recognize that your credible claim has been accepted,” he said. “That degree of validation is extremely important we’ve learned ... they’ve lived their whole lives in the shadow of what was done.”
In the announcement, Mitchell said it was the most comprehensive to date “to enable all victims of sexual abuse to obtain financial and therapeutic support through a dignified, non-adversarial process.”
“The program is designed to mitigate the harm while understanding that no remedy could fully recognize what these victims endured regardless of when the harm occurred,” he said. “(My) hope … is that everyone who suffered abuse at the hands of the Philadelphia archdiocese clergy will avail themselves of this program. The wrongs that you endured will not be erased by this program but they can be ameliorated.”
••• Victims have until Sept. 30, 2019, to file a claim to be considered for compensation through the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If the abuse claim has not been previously reported, victims have until July 31, 2019, to file. If the victim is dead, a family member or legal representative may file on their behalf.
Visit PhiladelphiaArchdioceseIRRP.com for more information.
Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg listen to the presentation as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia rolled out the details of their plan to compensate victims of childhood sexual abuse. Both will serve on the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program.