According to Syracuse.com, the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse has paid nearly $11 million to settle claims with 79 sex abuse victims, according to a report released today.
The Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program was administered by New York City lawyers Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinberg, who have handled victims’ funds after tragedies including 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Bishop Robert Cunningham announced the program in February 2018. It was initially expected to conclude in the fall, but officials said some victims took additional time to decide whether to accept offers by the IRCP.
A total of 88 people applied to the program for compensation. Program administrators made offers to 85 claimants, and 79 accepted the offers. Victims who took the offers signed releases that prohibit them from filing lawsuits.
Just four claimants did not respond to their offers, and two victims declined compensation altogether. That includes Kevin Braney, who recently filed a lawsuit against the diocese. Braney and others were only able to sue in New York state after the Legislature passed the Child Victims Act in January, expanding the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases.
Church officials wrote in a report that the entire program cost about $12.5 million. About $1.5 million was for administrative costs, according to the report. Compensation cost $10,922,500.
In December, the diocese named 57 priests with credible claims of child sex abuse against them.
By comparison, the Diocese of Ogdensburg — which has publicly named 28 priests as abusers — paid out about $5.5 million to 37 victims, according to a report by The Watertown Daily Times. Feinberg and Biros also oversaw that program. They have administered programs in New York dioceses of Manhanttan, Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, as well as in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Most of those programs are newer than Syracuse’s, and have not provided a total amount for the claims paid out.
Only people who had reported clergy sex abuse to the diocese prior to the start of the program were allowed to participate, according to the report. Those people were invited by letter to apply. Feinberg and Biros made independent determination as to whether each individual was eligible, and the award amounts.
Officials did not provide a range or breakdown of the offers made to individuals. Administrator Camille Biros and Syracuse Chancellor Danielle Cummings have both declined to answer questions about individual cases or priests.
Two victims who provided copies of the letters they received as part of the program were offered $5,000 and $300,000.
The IRCP was funded through the diocese’s self-insurance. Because the diocese does not have third-party insurance, it creates its own fund to pay for liabilities, including the claims settled through the program. Though the insurance fund is in part made up of revenue collected through parishes, officials said the diocese did not otherwise use donations given to parishes, schools, the annual HOPE appeal, Catholic Restoration Fund, Catholic Charities or other charitable funds to fund the program for victims.
“For many victims, this is not only about money. These compensation programs fail to ensure there is accountability and full disclosure on the church’s part,” said nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman. “Victims deserve to have their day in court, share what happened to them, and empower other victims to come forward,” said Jeff.
To leave any survivor, at any age, without recourse to seek the justice they deserve is devastating to the survivor and dangerous to future generations of children. Under the recently passed New York Child Victims Act, victims of childhood sexual abuse have a limited one-year window beginning on August 14, 2019 to seek justice and find healing. Herman Law has already been contacted by many survivors and is moving ahead with cases.
Dealing with the aftermath of sexual abuse can be overwhelming. Herman Law dedicates 100% of our practice to representing survivors of sexual abuse in civil cases. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse in New York, we may be able to help you. Please contact our office today to discuss your options.