By Tim Harfmann and Andrew Pugliese
New York state’s Child Victims Act (CVA) took effect on Aug. 14. The law lifts the statute of limitations, which gives those who say they were abused as minors one year to file a civil suit regardless of when the alleged crime occurred.
“Today, we stand with victims who were sexually abused as children,” Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a statement Aug. 14. “We have reached this point because too many victims all across society have sadly carried this heavy cross for far too long. Sexual abuse is a heinous crime, and victim-survivors now have a new avenue to seek redress through the Child Victims Act.
“For anyone abused by a priest, employee or volunteer — I am sorry that a member of our church who you trusted became the source of pain and anguish. You should know the Diocese of Brooklyn has instituted the most aggressive policies to prevent any future abuse and to protect children.”
Similar child abuse laws have been passed in Arizona, California, Delaware, Hawaii and New Jersey. A two-year window for lawsuits in New Jersey is set to begin Dec. 1.
Last week, 30 alleged victims of abuse by New Jersey priests chose to file their claim with the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program, according to NJ.com. The option is open to alleged victims in the five dioceses in New Jersey, allowing them to bring their claim to an independent mediator where the burden of proof is much less than it is in a courtroom.
The Diocese of Brooklyn is operating a similar program, called the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP). That program, which started in June 2017, gives alleged victims a way to settle claims with the diocese. Anyone who elects to participate in the IRCP agrees not to sue the diocese.
“While no amount of money could ever heal the scars of abuse, the compensation program has been one way for us to show a concrete expression of our contrition and our desire to make amends,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio wrote in his weekly column in the Aug. 10 issue of The Tablet.
Bishop DiMarzio also recommends the IRCP as “a better way” forward than a lawsuit.
“What we do know is that litigation can be a lengthy endeavor. Our straightforward and non-adversarial process through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program is still an option worth exploring.”
So far, the Diocese of Brooklyn has settled almost 500 claims, and has paid over $90 million in settlements. The money has come from selling and mortgaging properties, not from donations, Bishop DiMarzio said.
Lawyers Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinberg are the mediators of the diocese’s IRCP, along with similar programs in 15 dioceses in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Biros said a lawsuit often takes about two years, while the IRCP process is usually completed in 90 days. Biros and Feinberg have handled more than 2,000 claims and fewer than a handful have rejected their offer.
“It’s an opportunity to resolve the issue with the program rather than be in a court of law and have to bring up, justify, and have all these documents in a court of law, rather than an independent program where it’s just a one-on-one or with your lawyer,” Biros said.
One piece of information Biros and Feinberg use in reaching their decision is the determination of credibility by the Diocesan Review Board, made up of former police officers, psychologists, attorneys, pastors, social workers, and victims.
The board reports allegations received by the diocesan reporting line to the appropriate district attorney’s office of concern, either Brooklyn or Queens, as well as the New York Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, according to Joseph Esposito, chairman of the review board and retired NYPD Chief of Department, in a statement. If the police and district attorney “pass on the case,” Esposito said the board directs its investigators “to do a thorough investigation on the allegation.” Once the investigators report their findings, the board votes on whether the allegation is substantiated or unsubstantiated. Then, a letter is drafted to the diocese. The report is also sent to the Vatican.
“We hear you. We love you. We have compassion for you. We will do everything we can to see to it that you get justice and relief in this horrible situation,” Esposito said in a statement.
“If I can get one thing across to the people of this diocese, this board is independent, very thorough, and we have the best interest of all as our main concern.”
The New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, initially opposed efforts to pass the CVA, but supported it when lawmakers agreed to include public institutions in addition to the church, NYSCC spokesman Dennis Poust told Reuters.
Brian Toale, an alleged victim who belongs to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he plans to take advantage of New York state’s window to sue.
“When you make it easier for people to come forward and bring a suit, then it inspires other survivors to come forward,” Toale said.
The Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program: An Overview
Those alleging abuse by a clergy member of the Diocese of Brooklyn may still settle their claim with the diocese through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
The diocese’s IRCP began in June 2017 and will be in effect during the one-year window during which New York state has lifted the statute of limitations for those filing lawsuits alleging sexual abuse when they were a minor. That window began on Aug. 14. Those who go through the IRCP process may not file a civil suit alleging abuse.
The IRCP in the Diocese of Brooklyn is being administered by Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney best known for administering the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, and by Camille Biros, an associate of Feinberg’s. Feinberg and Biros decide the amount, if any, a claimant may receive. The diocese has agreed to abide by their decisions.
A panel consisting of Joseph P. Dunne, a former NYPD First Deputy Police Commissioner, and Joseph Golia, a former Queens County judge, is providing oversight for the IRCP.
Those claiming sexual abuse should call the diocese’s reporting number — (888) 634-4499 — to start the IRCP process. A claim will be heard after the claimant provides documents to support his or her allegation. Claims are reviewed by the administrators on a rolling basis.