NewsSex Abuse

Independent program pays $24 million to abuse claims in six dioceses

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SAN DIEGO — After nearly two years of operation, the Independent Compensation Program formed by six California (arch)dioceses paid just under $24 million to settle the claims of 197 victim-survivors who were sexually abused as children by clergy.

The San Diego Diocese participated in the program, paying $7,655,000 to 59 people who accepted offers from the program to settle their claims.

The Independent Compensation Program (ICP) is one of the initiatives the diocese has undertaken in recent years to help victims of past sexual abuse and to expand and strengthen efforts to prevent child abuse in San Diego and Imperial Valley. This work is part of the Church’s commitment to acknowledge its past failures, the pain and damage its priests and leadership caused to young people and to enforce strict reforms to prevent such harm from occurring again.

Five dioceses in California and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to participate in the ICP to provide support and compensation to victims of sexual abuse through a process that was non-adversarial, confidential and settled within months. The program accepted claims regardless of when the abuse occurred. And individuals could file claims regardless of immigration status or whether they were represented by an attorney. All allegations of abuse not previously known were required to be reported to law enforcement.

Two private compensation administrators, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, ran the program. They developed a national reputation for their fair and compassionate handling of claims arising out of the 9/11 attacks and the BP petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The administrators alone determined if a claim was eligible for the program, the merits of the claim, and set the amount to be paid to settle it.  The program was truly independent.

The program began accepting claims through a special website in September 2019. Nearly two years later, the administrators filed their final report on July 30 with the payment of the last claim. The report showed that 929 people registered through the website, that administrators evaluated 580 completed claims, and that the participating dioceses paid out a total of $23,970,000 in compensation to 197 individuals.

A three-member Independent Oversight Committee was created to oversee the program. The members were former California Governor Gray Davis, former Secretary of Defense and Monterey Congressman Leon Panetta and the former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet.

“We thank the administrators for their hard work, relentless attention to detail, and mostly for their victim/survivor-centered compassion and empathy in administering this program,” said Davis, in the Committee’s final report, issued on Sept. 2.

The report noted that the administrators had extended the program’s deadlines several times to give victims every opportunity to file a claim, particularly in the initial months of the pandemic.

Also participating in the ICP were the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento and San Bernardino. Together, the participating dioceses serve more than 10 million Catholics, about 80 percent of California’s Catholic population.

“No amount of money can make up for the evil done to victims of priestly sex abuse, but we can and must finish the job of compensating victim-survivors for the wrong that was done to them whenever it took place,” said San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, when the program was announced in June 2019.

He noted at the time that the funds to pay the claims would come from insurance policies and diocesan financial resources, not from parish resources or from funds from the Annual Catholic Appeal.

In recent years, the San Diego Diocese has responded to Pope Francis’ call to defeat “the monstrous crime of the sexual abuse of children and young people.”

In addition to participating in the ICP, the San Diego Diocese expanded the work of the Victim Assistance Coordinator, Mary Acosta.

The diocese hired a consulting firm headed by a former FBI agent, Dr. Kathleen McChessney, to examine the personnel files of bishops, priests, and permanent deacons to identify potential child-abuse cases not previously investigated.

In the fall of 2018, Bishop McElroy conducted eight “listening sessions” with parishioners across the diocese to explain the programs the diocese has implemented since 2002 to prevent childhood sex abuse at its parishes and schools and to answer questions.The diocese is not aware of any incident of clergy sexual abuse that has occurred since the 1990’s.

Bishop McElroy underscored that the Church has worked hard to change the culture that allowed the abuse to occur in decades past. He noted the policy of permanently removing from ministry anyone credibly accused of sexually abusing a child.

And he convened all diocesan staff members to come together for the first time in a single meeting — some 2,500 strong — to raise awareness of the problem of the sexual abuse of children in society. And he asked all of them to report any suspected abuse to authorities, not just those mandated by their jobs to do so.

For information about how the diocese works to prevent child abuse and how it investigates claims of abuse, visit safeinourdiocese.org. To report abuse you may phone (858) 490-8353 or email misconduct@sdcatholic.org.

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