What Is A Victim Compensation Fund?
Catholic dioceses create clergy abuse compensation funds to pay victims for the harm they suffered. Survivors often use these funds to make up for lost wages or pay for medical expenses related to the abuse, such as mental health services.
Are There Other Names For Catholic Church Compensation Funds?
Archdioceses, dioceses and states use different names for their victim compensation funds and programs. Other names may include the words “independent,” “reconciliation,” or “reparations.” For example, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles created a program called the “Independent Compensation Program (ICP)” to compensate those sexually abused by clergy serving the diocese.
Why Does The Roman Catholic Church Create Compensation Funds?
Catholic Church compensation programs are intended to reimburse people the church has harmed. In 2002, a Boston Globe investigation found church officials led a widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses. Since then, compensation funds have become a common way for dioceses to respond to Catholic clergy members sexually abusing children.
Compensation funds enable dioceses to avoid criminal or civil abuse cases, especially when a state has expanded its statute of limitations. Experts say compensation funds can save the Catholic Church hundreds of millions of dollars.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs vary based on the jurisdiction, the crime and the intended legal action (criminal charges versus a civil claim).
Additionally, lawsuits often lead to the release of informational documents. These documents can detail the sexual misconduct of clergy members and name those who concealed the abuse. Compensation programs often allow dioceses to keep incriminating information private.
Who Creates A Compensation Fund?
An archdiocese or diocese is generally responsible for creating compensation programs to pay priest abuse survivors. Despite being created by dioceses, these programs are often run by independent third-party administrators. The third-party administrators usually determine the payment amounts.
How Do I File A Claim With A Catholic Church Compensation Program?
Compensation funds have deadlines for claim applications, so it’s important to file a claim in a timely manner. Talking with an attorney before filing a claim can help you gather information about the claims process.
If you choose to file a claim through a compensation program, you will likely work with a claims coordinator or administrator. Clergy abuse compensation programs often have claims coordinators or administrators who are responsible for collecting and processing the claims. They may also coordinate a committee of reviewers. The committee can determine the claim’s validity and the payout amount.
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How Are Compensation Programs Different From Lawsuits?
Compensation funds have unique benefits, as well as significant drawbacks. They can provide faster payments to survivors. However, they typically pay smaller sums than lawsuit settlements. Compensation programs also sometimes ban victims of sexual abuse from talking about their abuse.
Survivors should talk to an attorney to determine whether a compensation fund or lawsuit is right for them.
For survivors, the possible benefits of a compensation fund include:
- Faster payouts
- Potentially the ability to remain anonymous
Compensation programs can also have costs for survivors, such as:
- Smaller payments than litigation
- Giving up the right to sue later
- Potentially being banned from publicly talking about the abuse or compensation
- Less accountability for abusers
In 2019, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) encouraged fellow survivors to review their options carefully before pursuing a compensation fund payout.
“We believe that the best way to expose wrongdoing and enforce accountability is for crimes to be made public and for punishment and compensation to be meted out by 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.”
How Much Is The Average Compensation Fund Payout?
Unfortunately, the national payment average is unknown. However, some state-level payment information is available. For example, seven Pennsylvania dioceses paid out an average of roughly $148,000 to more than 500 survivors.
What Victim Compensation Funds Are Open Currently?
As of January 2021, all compensation programs are closed. Previously, the following states had compensation funds for clergy abuse survivors:
Recently Closed Victim Compensation Funds
The Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) closed on January 31, 2020.
The New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program (IVCP) closed on January 31, 2020. Victims may still file lawsuits under the “look back” window established in Bill S477.
The victim compensation programs for the New York Catholic dioceses are closed. Victims may still file lawsuits under the “look back” window established in the New York Child Victims Act.
The victim compensation programs for the Pennsylvania dioceses are closed as of September 2019. As of January 2021, state lawmakers are considering “look back” legislation, but have not yet enacted one.
Which Dioceses Will Open Victim Compensation Funds In The Future?
A growing number of dioceses have declared bankruptcy. Recently, several have cited the combination of COVID-19 and child sexual abuse settlements as the reason for their financial troubles. In this unprecedented time, it is difficult to predict future compensation programs.
What If My Diocese Doesn’t Have A Victim Compensation Program?
Survivors should talk with an attorney if their diocese hasn’t started a victim compensation program. But, even when your diocese has opened a compensation fund, it can be helpful to consult a lawyer regarding your options. An attorney can help you review all of your options so you can make the best decision for you, and our consultations are free.
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Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.
California Dioceses Independent Compensation Program. (N.D.) Independent Compensation Program (“ICP”) for The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Diocese of Fresno, Diocese of Orange, Diocese of Sacramento, Diocese of San Bernardino, and Diocese of San Diego.
Gjelten, T. (2020, March 26). Diocese Suspends Abuse Victims’ Compensation Program, Citing ‘Economic Turmoil’. NPR.
Heyboer, K. (2020, January 30). Catholic fund has paid $11M to N.J. priest sex abuse victims. Friday is the last day to apply. NJ.com.
Levy, M. (2019, September 28). As victim compensation funds close, new chapter opens in fight over suing Catholic church in Pennsylvania. The Associated Press.
Lovett, I. (2019, July 11). Catholic Church Offers Cash to Settle Abuse Claims—With a Catch. The Wall Street Journal.
Rubinkam, M. (2019, December 26). Pennsylvania dioceses paid $84 million to 564 clergy abuse victims. The Associated Press.
SNAP. (2019, May 14). SNAP Responds to California Bishops’ Compensation Fund.