People who have been sexually abused by priests as minors at six dioceses, including Sacramento and Fresno, can now file claims to receive money from an independent compensation program, as part of the Roman Catholic Church’s ongoing efforts to repair public trust and offer reparations for past abuse.
The Independent Victims Compensation Program, managed by attorneys outside the church, is intended to make it easier for survivors to receive monetary compensation even if they chose not to pursue legal action, or if alleged abuse occurred many years ago past the statue of limitations.
In addition to Sacramento and Fresno, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the dioceses of Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego are participating in the compensation program. The program, announced earlier this year, is being funded by the diocesan funds and insurance.
Victims who have already reported abuse allegations to one of the participating dioceses will automatically receive a notice about the program. Others who were abused as minors but have not previously reported abuse can also register with the program for an initial eligibility review.
“A claimant who for years, decades, may have been ignored, now has a program where that claim will be acknowledged and validated,” Kenneth Feinberg, one of the program’s administrators, said in a statement.
Compensation determinations are final and are not subject to appeal by the victim or the dioceses; effectively working as settlements, victims would not be able to sue for the same case if they accepted the compensation award.
Victims can file claims regardless of when abuse occurred. The program also does not have a citizenship requirement, meaning victims who are undocumented can also file claims, according to a news release from the program. Claims will be processed within three to four months, they said.
In April, the Sacramento Diocese released the names of more than 40 clergymen credibly accused of sexually abusing roughly 130 victims over the last 70 years. Across the country, dioceses have been publicizing lists of priests accused of sexual abuse.
It’s unknown the amount of individual compensation awards will be, though similar settlement offers for other sex abuse cases tied to priests range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Until we have a sense of how many victims come forward and what the range of damages is, we just don’t have dollar figures,” Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for the program’s administrators, previously told The Bee.
Survivor advocates have argued that while compensation funds can be positive for victims, they also remove a legal tool that can be leveraged to force dioceses to release information or change practices.
The six participating dioceses in the program comprise more than 10 million Catholics, or about 80 percent of California’s Catholic population.