Springfield Diocese Agrees to Pay for outside Counselor for Abuse Victims

By Adam Gorlick
The Associated Press
August 30, 2004

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- For Marty Bono, the money isn't enough.

While lawyers for 46 clergy sex abuse victims and the Springfield Diocese hashed out details of a $7 million settlement reached last month, Bono, who says he was molested by his childhood priest and expects his settlement check this week, was writing a proposal of his own.

He wanted the diocese to pay for an independent advocate -- someone not affiliated with the Catholic church -- who would help victims get whatever counseling they needed. On Monday, church officials announced they'd go along with his plan.

"It's on the church's dime, but we're not going to them for any of the help," Bono, who lives in Chicopee, said. "Other than paying for this, they have nothing to do with it."

The diocese put out a request Monday to local private, nonprofit social service agencies to apply for a $50,000 grant that will pay for a "victim resource coordinator," to be selected by a committee that includes Bono and the church's victim advocate. The coordinator will help sex abuse victims contact professionals who could counsel them on matters of mental health, substance abuse, family issues and financial needs.

The diocese already has a victim advocate on its payroll, but Bono said many people who were abused by their priests don't want to get help from someone who works for the church.

"The bottom line is that people are uncomfortable," he said. "There's a lack of trust that a lot of victims have when it comes to dealing with the church."

The diocese also said it will pay for an unlimited amount of therapy for any sex abuse victim. Victims can choose their own counselors.

Bono said he's concerned that when victims begin getting their settlement checks this week, they won't make smart decisions on how to use the money. Bono wouldn't say how much he'll receive, but the agreement called for victims to receive no less than $80,000 each. There was no cap set on the payments, and John Stobierski, the Greenfield lawyer who represented the victims, would not disclose the amount of the highest payment.

"A lot of the guys could probably use someone to talk to about what to do when the money comes in," Bono said. "The money won't just be the answer to everyone's problems."

A statement released Monday by the diocese assures the new program will operate independently of the church, but "does allow for the coordinator to speak to church and survivor groups and explain the crucial need for this type of outreach."

Bono and church officials said the arrangement sets a precedent for how dioceses in America deal with sex abuse victims.

Sue Archibald, president of the national victim advocacy group The Linkup, said she was unaware of similar agreements between a diocese and abuse victims, but said it's a good idea to have a victim advocate removed from the hierarchy of a diocese.

"All victim assistant people should be independent of the church," she said. "Across the board, people are afraid to contact advocates who are closely connected to a diocese. And that diminishes the effectiveness of the role of the advocate."


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