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Independent Compensation Program Opens

LOS ANGELES — Individuals who were abused as minors by San Diego diocesan priests can begin the process of filing claims with the Independent Victim Compensation Program (ICP), which opened on Sept. 16.

They can register through the program website, www.CaliforniaDiocesesICP.com or by phoning (844) 589-8764.

The program is the latest initiative taken by San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy to help victims of sexual abuse by diocesan clergy. Earlier this year, he announced the expansion of the role of the Victim Assistance Coordinator.

“This is a necessary step to help victim-survivors receive the acknowledgment they deserve and the material help they need,” said Bishop McElroy in a statement when the program was launched. “It also continues our work to confront the grievous and unconscionable sins committed by individual priests and the failure of the Church hierarchy to protect young people from harm.”

The program will be administered by nationally respected attorneys Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, without any control from the Catholic Church.

The panel of prominent Catholics that will oversee the program announced its launch at a press conference in Los Angeles on Sept. 16. They are former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former California Gov. Gray Davis, and business leader and former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet.

“Victim-survivors of sexual abuse have already endured tremendous pain. For some, facing that anguish again in a public trial is a burden too heavy to shoulder. That is why I support this voluntary, private, and non-adversarial Independent Compensation Program as an alternative, regardless of when the abuse occurred,” said Davis.

In addition to the San Diego Diocese, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Dioceses of Orange, San Bernardino, Fresno and Sacramento are participating in the program.

Feinberg and Biros will have complete independence to determine the eligibility of individual claims and they as Administrators alone will determine the amount of compensation offered to any victim. The dioceses have agreed to abide by their decisions, and the amount of compensation is not subject to appeal by the dioceses.

How the Program Works

This program is open to a broader range of persons than are eligible to pursue claims in civil courts. Adults who were harmed many years ago as minors and barred from filing lawsuits because of civil statutes of limitations will be eligible to make claims under this program. Undocumented persons who may have been abused as minors are also eligible to make claims.

The six participating dioceses are contacting victim-survivors who have previously reported allegations of abuse to alert them to this new program. In addition, the program will invite others who may have been abused as minors, but have not previously reported the abuse, to come forward and to register with the program.

The program website has a section called “How to Register,” where victims can confidentially provide their names and details of the abuse. The information is submitted to Feinberg and Biros, who will determine eligibility. Those who are eligible will be sent a packet to apply for compensation. The deadline to register with the program is Jan. 31, 2020.

The victim-survivor will be asked to provide any information to the program they can to support their claim. This can include the names of people who were aware of the abuse and information about visits to a doctor or therapist. Feinberg and Biros, for their part, will check with the diocese about the history of the priest being accused.

The Administrators will evaluate all the information and determine whether the claim has been substantiated and the level of compensation to be offered. Victim-survivors can either accept the settlement or reject it, and pursue any other remedies open to them.

“As a Catholic mother and long-time voice for the unheard, I take on this role with a deep sense of responsibility to assure the process is independent, compassionate and provides the abuse survivors and their families a meaningful step towards healing,” said Contreras-Sweet.

“There is nothing that can get me past the pain [caused] to these children,” she said while fighting back tears. “I hope [this program] is a turning point for our Church.”

Unlike civil litigation in the courts, this new program provides a process that is non-adversarial and protects victims’ privacy. Victim-survivors do not need to retain a lawyer to participate and there are no fees for participating.  The Administrators have said that compensation for fully completed and documented claims can usually be paid within 90 days.

Victim-survivors are free to talk about any and all aspects of their claim. They are under no obligation to keep anything they say or do confidential, and it will have no impact on their claim. 

Feinberg and Biros are administering similar compensation programs for child victims of abuse covering Catholic dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado.

“No amount of money will provide closure to victims,” Feinberg said. “But the program is a small step in helping victims secure some degree of financial security. A claimant who for years, decades, may have been ignored, now has a program where that claim will be acknowledged and validated. Do not underestimate the importance of this.”

Panetta urged everyone who has suffered to participate in the program.

“We can never erase the pain you have endured, but we can assist you in the ongoing process of healing and recovery. Our prayer is that this process can help provide some semblance of justice to the victims of crimes that for too long went unpunished.”

In his statement, Bishop McElroy noted that compensation for the program will come from diocesan funds, insurance and insurance reserves. No money will come from the Annual Catholic Appeal or any parish resources.

“Let us always pray for the victims of priestly sexual abuse,” the bishop concluded. “The sinful crimes that were committed upon Children of God entrusted to our care are despicable. It must never happen again.”

Where to Begin a Claim

The California Independent Victim Compensation Program opened on Sept. 16. Individuals may begin the registration process to file a claim through the program website, www.CaliforniaDiocesesICP.com, or by phoning (844) 589-8764. The site offers information in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

According to the program administrators, the initial deadline to register for the program is Jan. 31, 2020, and the deadline to submit a claim is March 31, 2020. 

The program is open to victim-survivors of sexual abuse who were abused as minors by San Diego diocesan priests or priests of the five other participating (arch)dioceses, regardless of when the abuse occurred.

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