NY archdiocese responds to questions over its victims’ compensation fund

By Matt Hadro for CNA

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Credit: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 14, 2021 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of New York responded Thursday to questions about its victims’ compensation program.

An ABC News story Jan. 14 had reported that, according to an attorney chosen by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York to run a victims’ compensation fund, the fund was set up to dissuade lawmakers from passing a law to allow for a flood of new clergy abuse lawsuits.

ABC News reported the transcript of a 2017 conference call between the attorney, Kenneth Feinberg, and representatives of Catholic dioceses of Syracuse, Buffalo, and Rochester, discussing the compensation fund.

On the call, Feinberg reportedly said, “I think the Cardinal [Dolan] feels that it is providing his lawyers in Albany with additional persuasive powers not to reopen the statute [of limitations].”

At the time, the fund was being created New York legislators had already considered changing the statute of limitations on clergy sex abuse cases to allow for lawsuits in old cases. The state’s Catholic Conference had lobbied against the proposed law as too broad, possibly allowing for litigation in cases where the alleged perpetrators of abuse had already died.

In response to the ABC News report, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York told CNA on Thursday that the victims’ compensation program was voluntary and was set up to help victims “find healing.”

He said that it was also established to provide an “alternative” model “to litigation as passed in the Child Victims Act,” and was “offering compensation without the need to engage in drawn-out and difficult litigation.”

“As far as Mr. Feinberg’s comments, you would have to ask him. Cardinal Dolan was not a participant in that call, and cannot comment on what he may or may not have said,” the spokesman said of the reported 2017 conference call.

In October 2016, Cardinal Dolan announced the creation of the independent compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. Those victims who accepted compensation from the archdiocese in the fund would waive the right to sue for more money later.

Feinberg, who headed the program, previously led the fund for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks.

He and Camille Biros were charged with working with victims who previously made abuse claims against the archdiocese; following that process of addressing already-existing claims, they would review new abuse claims made against archdiocesan clergy. Joining them in reviewing the new claims would be the district attorney, independent investigators, and a lay review board.

Although the New York Catholic Conference initially opposed the Child Victims Act, the conference eventually dropped its opposition, the archdiocesan spokesman told CNA on Thursday. When the bill was amended to allow lawsuits by alleged victims of not only religious clergy, but also alleged victims of public employees such as public school teachers, the conference stopped opposing it.

In 2019, following the revelations of alleged abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, New York enacted the Child Victims Act. The law set up a one-year window for clergy sex abuse lawsuits in cases where the statute of limitations had previously expired.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has since extended the window for filing lawsuits until Aug. 14, 2021, due to complications caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

CNA reported in December 2017 that nearly 200 clergy sex abuse victims had already received compensation totaling more than $40 million.

In 2019, one clergy sex abuse victim who received compensation under the fund sued the archdiocese, New York Daily News reported. The Child Victims Act had just been signed into law, and the alleged victim claimed that in waiving his right to eventually sue the archdiocese for money, his lawyer who advised him during the compensation process did not properly represent his interests.

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