On Monday Bishop John O. Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which includes Catholic churches on the North Fork, announced a compensation program for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program is modeled after similar successful programs instituted in the Archdiocese of New York and Brooklyn last year and seeks to provide financial reparation to victims.
In New York State, victims of abuse are limited to filing a lawsuit against an abuser within five years of turning 18 and filing suit against an institution within three years of turning 18. There are no such limits with the IRCP.
Jerry Kristal, an attorney with Lawyers Helping Survivors of Child Sex Abuse has worked on similar compensation programs run in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, and encourages victims who have been abused by priests on Long Island to come forward.
“We want victims of abuse to see what their options are and to make an intelligent, informed decision about what they want to do,” he said. “This is an option for them to consider.”
The program is being introduced in two phases. In phase one, victims who have previously registered a complaint with the Diocese of Rockville Centre will be contacted using their last known address and will be guided through the process of filing for compensation. In phase two, victims who have never registered a complaint will be able to fill out an online form to begin the process. Phase one was started on Oct. 16; phase two is set to begin in January of 2018.
Kristal stresses that once a survivor has accepted an offer for compensation from the diocese, they give up the right to file suit should New York State’s statute of limitations laws change.
There are strict eligibility requirements, Kristal said. A victim had to have been abused in a Diocese of Rockville Centre parish by a diocesan priest or deacon. If someone was abused in the diocese by a Jesuit, a Franciscan or a nun, for example, they would not be eligible.
“It’s extremely important for word to get out that the program exists,” Kristal said. “Whether people decide in the end to accept any offer or not, it’s very important for child sexual abuse survivors to have an option.”
Monetary compensation is only a portion of the healing process, he says. “The reality is moving forward, being acknowledged, being understood to be credible. It’s an important part of the healing process.”
In Kristal’s experience, the offers have ranged from $50,000 to $400,000 but there is no aggregate cap on compensation for the IRCP.
Kristal believes that the number of survivors who have never come forward far exceeds the number who have registered a complaint.
In 2003, the Suffolk County Supreme Court Special Grand Jury issued a 181-page report accusing the diocese of protecting abusive priests and failing to safeguard children. By volunteering to compensate victims now, the diocese releases itself from future litigation should statute of limitations laws change.
The website Bishop-Accountability.org maintains a database of accused priests who have worked in the Rockville Centre Diocese. There are nine priests on the list who have worked in parishes in Southold, Mattituck, Cutchogue, Riverhead and Wading River.
For victims who have previously registered a complaint with the diocese, the deadline for submitting claims is Dec. 31, 2017. For more information visit the Rockville Centre Diocese IRCP website.