Ohio Bishops Give $3 Million to Sex-Abuse Counseling Fund
By David Briggs
Cleveland Plain Dealer [Ohio]
November 16, 2006
Ohio's Catholic bishops are reaching out to survivors of childhood sexual abuse with a new program that will allow victims to get counseling independent of the church.
In what appears to be the first voluntary program of its kind in the country, the Diocese of Cleveland and seven other dioceses and the Parma Byzantine Eparchy have contributed $3 million to the fund for victims of childhood sexual abuse who no longer trust the church to help them.
"It's the right thing to do," Timothy Luckhaupt, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, said in an interview Wednesday. "We've harmed people. We should help them."
The new Counseling Assistance Fund will accept claims beginning today from those abused as minors by clergy or other representatives of the Catholic Church and who were Ohio residents at the time. Abuse victims have 18 months to submit a claim.
In an effort to get the word out, the Catholic Conference is notifying mental health agencies and is asking all the state's parishes to make people aware of the fund at Masses this weekend.
Some see ulterior motives behind the new program.
The president of a victims group on Thursday criticized the fund as "one more public relations move that's basically designed to forestall any real legislative reform."
Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Catholic Conference fought hard this year against an effort in the Ohio Legislature to allow abuse victims an extra year to file civil lawsuits after the current statute of limitations expires.
She said the new counseling program "is an attempt to thwart any future legislative efforts."
The Diocese of Cleveland, as do other dioceses, has its own victims assistance program that offers counseling services.
But conference officials said they recognize that many abuse survivors no longer trust the church.
"Counseling is a vital part of the healing process, and we want all survivors of abuse to know they have choices and support in getting counseling," Luckhaupt said.
Under the fund, abuse survivors who are not currently working with a diocesan program or have a pending legal claim against the church may submit a claim for mental health services. The request is evaluated by a claims award panel that the church said is independently appointed by county Probate Court judges and other public officials.
People whose claims are approved may obtain services from any mental health provider licensed in the state where they live.
Nationally, more than 12,000 accusations of abuse have been made against Catholic clergy since 1950. The costs to the church of addressing abuse-related expenses were nearly $467 million last year.
The Web site for those interested in making claims is www.counselingassistancefund.org.
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