A new program announced Wednesday by The Diocese of Syracuse aims to provide financial compensation to victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Funding for the program will be coming out of the diocese’s general liability insurance, not from charitable donations made by parishioners. Bishop Robert Cunningham says the adoption of the program in Syracuse follows the success of similar programs at other New York dioceses.
"The response from survivors and their families has been extremely positive. We know and we acknowledge that we cannot reverse the damage that has been done in the past, but our hope is that this new effort will provide an opportunity to seek forgiveness and perhaps bring a sense of healing to some."
The early phase of the program will focus on the 76 individuals who have made claims in the past, but received no satisfactory response. Cunningham says the program is strictly about compensation for the victims, not about taking action against priests. Not all of the 40 accused priest’s identities have been made public.
"Some survivors have asked me to release all of the names and others have asked me not to release the name of their offender, therefore we will confirm a name when a survivor makes it known and in that way I feel I am honoring the request of both."
The program will be independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who have headed similar programs for victims of sexual abuse in the church, as well as victims of 9/11 and the BP Oil Spill. Feinberg says the program will remain purely voluntary to account for victims who, for a variety of reasons, may not want to come forward.
"You know usually when you set up compensation programs, build it and they will come. In the area of sexual abuse of minors years and years ago, we find that more than occasionally, the victim does not want to submit a claim."
Bishop Cunningham says this is another chance to try and bring comfort to the victims who suffered during what he calls a horrific chapter in the church’s history.
"My hope is that this program will be a time of reconciliation and peace. Through the years I met with many victims, I've listened to their stories, I've empathized with them, sympathized with them and knew that we had to do more. And while counseling and spiritual direction and assistance has been offered in the past, we felt that this was a time to move forward."
Victims who made claims of sexual abuse to the Diocese of Syracuse prior to February 14, 2018 will have until May 16 to apply for their compensation. Claims submitted after Wednesday will not be accepted during this phase of the compensation program.