Dioceses, Eparchy Offer $3m Therapy Fund for Victims

By David Yonke
Toledo Blade [Ohio]
November 17, 2006

Ohio's eight Catholic dioceses - including Toledo - and one Byzantine eparchy have set up a $3 million fund to provide counseling for abuse victims who are reluctant to ask the church for help.

The funds have been deposited with Fifth Third Bank and claim forms are available online. A three-person independent panel will decide if the allegations are credible and how much money individuals will receive to be used for counseling, said Timothy Luckhaupt, executive director of the Columbus-based Catholic Conference of Ohio.

"This is completely separate from the church," he said in an interview yesterday.

The idea for the fund arose during the emotional hearings last spring over Senate Bill 17, in which more than 100 victims testified before the legislature, he said.

A revised version of the bill extended the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse.

"I sat through all the Senate Bill 17 hearings and it was very, very apparent that there were a number of people who testified who completely lost their faith, period - not only in the Catholic Church but in some cases perhaps in their belief in God - as a result of what happened to them," Mr. Luckhaupt said. "These people have been harmed and we have an obligation to help them, and the mental-health professionals say the best way to help is through counseling."

The Ohio program, believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, was funded by the Roman Catholic dioceses of Toledo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Steubenville, and Youngstown; Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Parma, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, and Parma Byzantine Eparchy.

"I feel that it is yet another step for us to continue to ask victims to come forward," said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Toledo diocese. "We realize that not every survivor out there is a member of a victims' support group, and if they want to receive some counseling and help independent of the church, then this is a good way for them to do that."

The Catholic Conference of Ohio (CCO) sent bulletin inserts to parishes and provided a statement for priests to read from the pulpit, starting this weekend.

The program will be offered for 18 months or until the $3 million fund is exhausted, Mr. Luckhaupt said. He said the CCO made "an educated guess" that there would be 250 to 300 people applying for the counseling funds. The monetary awards will likely be between $10,000 and $12,000 per person, although there is no cap.

The $10,000 figure would pay for up to five years of counseling, Mr. Luckhaupt said, starting with one session a week for a year, then one every other week for the second year, then once a month for the next three years.

Claudia Vercellotti, coordinator of the Toledo chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was skeptical of the program, saying it looks good on the surface but "the devil is in the details."

"Victims have a history in this diocese of having to grovel for therapy after being raped and sodomized and groped by church leaders," she said. "While counseling is important, so is exposing the perpetrators and exposing those who covered up for them."

Ineligible for the program are people who previously reached settlements of abuse claims with the Catholic Church; those with legal actions pending; anyone who has won a court judgment in an abuse claim, or those who previously received counseling funds or financial assistance through the church.

The recipients also must sign waivers stating they will not sue the church in the future.

"We feel they have to make a choice," Mr. Luckhaupt said. "They can sue the church if they want to ... or they can come to the church, which these people [for whom the program is designed] will not do. Or they can come to this third-party fund."



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