San Diego, 5 Other California Dioceses Create Clergy Abuse Compensation Program
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / May 15, 2019
Six Roman Catholic dioceses in California, including San Diego, are creating a program to compensate people who were sexually abused by priests as children, in return for them promising not to sue.
Speaker 1: 00:00 As attorney general. Javier Bissera investigates whether Church officials followed the law and reported allegations of sex abuse to law enforcement. Six of California's Catholic diocese including San Diego, have started a compensation program for victims. The program is an alternative to suing the church, particularly since the statute of limitations has run out on many cases. Joining me via Skype is Camille Biros. She's with the Feinberg law firm and one of the administrators who will be overseeing this program. Camille, thanks for joining us.
Speaker 2: 00:31 Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:32 And you are with the law firm that is best known for settling victims claims after nine 11 and I understand this compensation program is similar to one established in New York and other states for victims of sexual abuse by clergy. Um, tell me how it will work.
Speaker 2: 00:48 So yes, you're correct. We designed an implementer, our first program for the archdiocese in the city of New York. And so the way it works is basically we are totally independent. The program is completely and totally voluntary. The victims may choose to come into the program. If they desire, they can go all the way through the whole process and they can see what the offer the settlement offer would be and then they can choose to either accept or they can choose to say no thank you. I think I will either file a lawsuit or not do anything at this time, but that's totally at their option. We start off with outreach to the known victims, um, uh, of the diocese and then we, uh, on a parallel track allow of victims who never before reporting to the diocese a case of child abuse or sexual tile, child abuse to register through the website so that we can look at new claims as well.
Speaker 1: 01:47 Do they need an attorney for this?
Speaker 2: 01:49 They do not need an attorney, although we, I would say we're probably about 50% of the claims that we have in of the 14 of 1500 that we have. And for the two states at the moment, about 50% are represented, but it is an application process. They need to fill out the application and provide us whatever supporting documentation they may have, whether it's in the form of, you know, therapy or counseling records or notes or any correspondence or communication they may have had where they told someone about the abuse or a relative or friend or law enforcement, whatever they have, they can provide to us for corroboration of their client. Sometimes, um, you know, we need to go back and work with the claimant, um, and have them provide us additional information or they haven't quite completed the form or whatever. But if, if it's fully completed, we can probably turn it around in about 90 days.
Speaker 1: 02:46 San Diego Catholic Bishop Robert Mcelroy was not available for an interview, but in a statement he said this quote, no amount of money can make up for the evil done to victims of priestly sex abuse, but we can and finish the job of compensating victims and survivors for the wrong that was done to them whenever it took place. And quote, now, people who accept compensation would forfeit their ability to go to court. Is that correct?
Speaker 2: 03:10 It makes such as the compensation for my program. Yes, you're correct. They must sign a release and that would preclude a lot then from filing a lawsuit in court. But let me just make a comment about the bishops comment. I completely agree with the Bishop and we hear, and as I mentioned, we've now looked at about 1400 cases. What we hear most often from the victims is that it's not about the money. It is just not about the money. It's the acknowledgement. Um, and the validation of, of the victims of reports that this happened to them when they were a child. That's what they are grateful for. That these two independent people believe what they're, what they're saying to be true.
Speaker 1: 03:50 Earlier today we spoke with Irwin's Alkin and attorney who has represented sexual abuse victims by clergy. Here's what he had to say about his concerns about this. Compensation Fund.
Speaker 3: 04:00 Victims need to be very cautious about, uh, involving themselves in this type of fund. This is all about damage control. This is not about reconciliation with victims. If they wanted to reconcile with victims, why didn't they do this? And why didn't they create these kinds of funds before they were facing a change in the statute of limitations.
Speaker 1: 04:24 And what he's talking about there is a state bill by San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that's working its way through the legislature and would extend the statute of limitations on reporting sexual assaults and allow them to sue. So, uh, what about the timing of the compensation program? Why is this happening now?
Speaker 2: 04:43 Let's just talk about that for a moment because what I see is that the victim will now have a choice. The victim can either, once the window opens on the statute, they can go to court and brewer case that they wouldn't otherwise have been able to do. So because it had votes, it was beyond the statute of limitations. They can certainly do that. Or they can come into our program. They can also come into our program and as I mentioned earlier, see what the determination is going to bed and then say, no, thank you very much. I'm going to continue to pursue my, my case in court. And as far as I'm concerned, it gives the victim of choice. As I said, we can turn around a claim if it's fully documented in 90 days. That's not so true in, in a lawsuit situation. A lawsuit as you well know, we'll take a year or two maybe more, maybe longer. Yeah.
Speaker 1: 05:33 How do you respond to that type of, um, of criticism and other concerns that this is a closed process that could potentially keep the public in the dark?
Speaker 2: 05:41 So I'm not quite sure what, what you mean by a closed process. We are, the claimant is free to speak, um, publicly to, to whomever he or she wishes about the process, the amount of money that was offered to them, whatever they want to speak about, they are certainly entitled to do so. We, on the other hand, will not speak about any specific claim that we will never mention a claimant's name of victim saying, but we can certainly and have done so provides statistics on how the program is running. You know, the number of victims who filed claims, the number that we resolved, the number that I'm rejected, uh, the, the author, we are certainly open and have done some reporting on those statistics.
Speaker 1: 06:25 What the identity of the accused priest be made public?
Speaker 2: 06:28 Well, um, you know, I don't know what, what the, the diocese in California we'll do or have done, but certainly in New York they, eh, they have just posted all the New York diocese have just recently posted the list of uh, abuses including abusers that, uh, were first a known because they came through our program.
Speaker 1: 06:47 And how soon do you expect victims to be able to file a claim?
Speaker 2: 06:51 We're hoping to launch the program in California in the early fall. In the meantime, there's a lot of work that we need to do on the front end here, and we need to, you know, not only get the contact information for the, for the, the known victims, but we need to get whatever existing files at the diocese have or these individuals so that we can start organizing program materials and just so that we're ready to go once these programs are launched, and as soon as you're launched these programs within a week's time, you get your first clients in the door. So we want to be completely prepared for when that happens.
Speaker 1: 07:26 Yeah, I've been speaking with Camille Biros. She is with the Feinberg law from Camille. Thank you so much for talking to us today. Thank you very much.
Speaker 4: 07:36 [inaudible].