SAN DIEGO – The effort to offer a Victim Compensation Program remains on track to begin receiving applications before the end of summer.
Bishop Robert W. McElroy announced on May 14 that the Diocese of San Diego would be part of the program to assist in healing and provide compensation for anyone who had been abused as a minor by a priest of the San Diego Diocese. Five other dioceses or archdioceses in California are also participating — San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles, Fresno and Sacramento. More may join at a later date.
The program will be independent of Church control and will be administered by Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros, of the Feinberg Law Firm. They have a national reputation for fairness and compassion, gained through their work with victims of 9/11, the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and other, similar compensation programs undertaken by (arch)dioceses in New York and Pennsylvania.
A three-member lay panel of prominent Californians will oversee the process, including former California Gov. Gray Davis, former Congressman and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Maria Contreras Sweet, a businesswoman and former director of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Victim-survivors who have already notified the diocese of possible abuse will receive a letter directly from the Program Administrators inviting them to participate. Persons who may have never previously reported their abuse will also be able to apply for compensation via an online website.
Victim-survivors may apply for compensation regardless of when the abuse took place. Whether the abuse took place five years ago or 50, a person’s claim will still be considered. There will be no statute of limitations. There is no cost to do so. Undocumented immigrants may apply. If an individual has already received compensation or made a settlement with the diocese, however, they are generally ineligible to receive additional compensation.
The only required paperwork is the claim form and proof the abuse was reported to law enforcement in some manner. The Program Administrators may ask for additional information, if it is available.
The bishops retained Feinberg’s law firm to create a compensation program that would be a reasonable alternative to time-consuming and expensive litigation. The Program Administrators expect to complete work on most claims within 90 days. The amount of any compensation offer for qualifying claims is determined by the independent Program Administrators, not the Church, and is binding on the diocese.
Anyone who applies but is unsatisfied with the compensation offered by the Program Administrators is free to reject the offer and seek other legal remedies. There is no risk and no penalty for anyone filing a claim.
Applicants do not need an attorney to participate in the program but will be required to consult with one before accepting any offer of compensation so that they understand their rights and understand what is contained in the compensation agreement. If they don’t have one, an attorney not affiliated with the diocese or the Program Administrators will be provided to them at no charge.