NEW YORK — Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Thursday that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has created an independently-mediated compensation program for people who were sexually abused by church leaders, likely the first of its kind in the nation.
Abuse survivors who are willing to waive the right to sue could in exchange receive financial compensation at an amount set by an independent mediator, a plan that mirrors compensation funds used in the wake of national tragedies and major scandals. One of the mediators the archdiocese has hired, Kenneth Feinberg, also set compensation amounts for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill.
Some critics argued that the new plan, which would require victims who have already lodged abuse complaints with the church to request compensation by the end of January, suggests the archdiocese wants to quietly settle claims before the New York legislature changes the law on how much time victims have to sue in court — possibly exposing the archdiocese to many more lawsuits.
Currently, New York has a statute of limitations that is one of the most restrictive in the country: Victims have until they turn 23 to file lawsuits. Advocates for sexual abuse victims have been fighting for a lengthier statute of limitations.
“It’s a good addition, but it can’t be a substitution for statute of limitations reform,” said Marci Hamilton, an expert who has represented hundreds of sexual-abuse survivors. The archdiocese’s plan should be reserved for victims who do not want to go to court, said Hamilton, who is chief executive and academic director for CHILD USA and a distinguished scholar at University of Pennsylvania.
At a news conference, Dolan called sexual abuse a “nauseating crime” that has “gravely wounded us in the church.” He said the church has made strides on the issue, and he said Pope Francis’s “year of mercy” was the motivation for the new compensation program. The amount of money that victims will receive has not been determined, he said.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of a group that advocates for church transparency called BishopAccountability.org, said in an email that Dolan’s plan “isn’t mercy, it’s strategy.”
More than 1,000 victims have received compensation from the Boston archdiocese, 570 in Milwaukee, 508 in Los Angeles and 169 in Portland, according to Doyle. If the proposed Child Victims Act is passed, the identities of hundreds of abusive priests, brothers and nuns will be made public, probably bringing forth many more victims, Doyle said. In the New York archdiocese, 77 clerics have been accused publicly, according to the group.
“Ultimately, this move is aimed at keeping the public in the dark about the true scope of the Catholic abuse crisis in New York,” Doyle said.
The archdiocese is currently aware of 170 survivors, but anyone can come forward to seek compensation, according to Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese.
Lawmakers in Albany have debated changes to the statute of limitations, and such proposals have faced opposition from Catholic Church leaders. One proposal would eliminate the statute of limitations for several child sexual abuse crimes going forward and would give past victims one year to file civil lawsuits.
To cover the cost of compensating victims, the archdiocese said it will take out a long-term loan.
This article has been updated.