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New York's Catholic Church has paid out over $40 million in compensation to sex abuse victims over the last 13 months, according to a new report from the Archdiocese of New York. Over 200 abuse survivors stepped forward to participate in the Church's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, a settlement fund established in 2016.
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As of today, a total of 189 survivors have secured compensation through the fund, Church officials say, though some claims filed before the November 1, 2017 deadline have yet to be processed. Speaking to Time, a spokesperson for the Catholic archdiocese could not provide a detailed breakdown of settlement amounts, but said that some of the claims involved accusations of sex abuse that allegedly occurred decades ago. The average payout came to around $211,600.
Phase 1 of the program, which focused on previously-raised allegations of abuse, involved accusations against around 40 priests, the New York Times reports.
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program was set up to "respond to the past scourge of sexual abuse of minors by clergy," the New York Archdiocese's website reports. For over three decades, the world's Catholic community has struggled to handle a far-reaching sex abuse crisis in which thousands of assault survivors have come forward to accuse members of the clergy of sexual misconduct. The Archdiocese of New York covers Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and a number of southeastern counties bordering New York City.
In an eight-page report released on Thursday, December 7, 2017, the New York Archdiocese reaffirmed its commitment to atoning for sins of the past. "We are grateful to the more than 200 victim-survivors who came forward to participate in the program," the Catholic church wrote, "and renew to them, and to all victim-survivors, our sorrow and shame at what they were forced to endure."
Related reading: Buffalo Catholic Diocese Releases New List Of Accused Clergy
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved in 2005 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, commits Church leaders in the United States to a host of principles and procedures designed to address sex abuse of the past and prevent clergy misconduct in the future. As the Archdiocese of New York explains, the nation's Church has now pledged to:
The New York Archdiocese says it has conducted more than 126,000 background checks since the Charter came into effect, with over 110,000 seminarians, deacons and priests receiving training on recognizing and addressing the signs of childhood sex abuse through a "Safe Environment Program."
The Archdiocese receives annual audits to ensure compliance from Stonebridge Partners, a business strategy and investing firm based in White Plains. Going even further, the organization employs a variety of former law enforcement officials (most of whom worked specifically in sex crimes prosecution) to perform routine spot-checks in parishes and schools to ensure adherence to the Archdiocese's current policies.
The Archdiocese has also thrown its weight behind proposals in the New York legislature to extend the statute of limitations (both criminal and civil) for lawsuits filed against those who commit sexual abuse against children.
As currently written, New York State law allows people who were abused as minors up to 5 years from their 18th birthday to file a civil suit against the abuser. Third-party lawsuits, in which a business or property owner is sued for negligence related to abuse, are governed by a 3-year statute of limitations, beginning on the victim's 18th birthday. Criminal charges can only be pressed before a victim's 23rd birthday.
Advocates in Albany have been pushing a bill to expand these laws for over a decade, but with little success. The legislation, known as the Child Victims Act, wants to set the civil statute of limitations for childhood sex abuse at 32 years, granting victims the right to sue until they turn 50.
The Archdiocese of New York stands behind these changes, but has one quibble that prevents it from giving the Child Victims Act full-throated support. If passed as written, the law would open a "window" in the statute of limitations, creating a 1-year time period in which civil claims dating back decades could be resurrected in court. The window would apply equally to lawsuits filed against abusers and their employers.
"This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge," the Archdiocese writes, "and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed."
On the other side of the ledger, the Archdiocese supports eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes entirely. The Child Victims Act would only push it out a little further, providing victims until their 28th birthday to press charges.
Alongside the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn established its own Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to provide compensation to survivors of sex abuse committed by members of the clergy in Brooklyn and Queens.
Phase I of the program, reserved for NY sex abuse survivors who had already reported misconduct, had a claim deadline of September 30, 2017. In the coming months, the Brooklyn Diocese will begin Phase II, in which claims that have not yet been reported will be processed.
A similar program is being run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, covering clergy members in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The fund's Phase I deadline has been extended to January 31, 2018, leaving sex abuse survivors who have already reported improper conduct just two more months to submit a claim.