Buffalo Diocese pays $17.5M to 106 clergy sex abuse victims

The Buffalo News

May 28, 2019

By Jay Tokasz

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has paid $17.5 million to 106 childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse, while rejecting 135 applicants it deemed ineligible for its voluntary compensation program.

A total of 127 settlements were offered to the accusers, ranging from $2,000 to $650,000, with an average award of $158,622. Seventeen people turned down the offers. Three people have yet to decide on offers totaling $425,000, and one person who accepted a $60,000 offer has yet to be paid, which means the diocese’s total cost could end up at more than $18 million.

Despite its large price tag, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program payments could turn out to be a bargain for the diocese. Dioceses that settled claims brought through litigation ended up paying much more. In 2016, the Buffalo Diocese settled for $1.5 million a single abuse claim brought in a federal court in Hawaii.

By comparison, the largest compensation award offer was $650,000 and went to a man who accused the Rev. Michael R. Freeman of aiming a revolver at his head and repeatedly molesting him when he was a child in the 1980s. The man was one of the 17 people who rejected offers, according to his attorney, Steve Boyd.

Those who took the payments agreed not to sue, so the Buffalo Diocese avoided more than 100 potential lawsuits under a Child Victims Act signed into law in February that will allow previously time-barred abuse cases to be heard in state courts.

It’s unclear how many of the 135 applicants deemed ineligible for the compensation program will now sue, though some of them have told The Buffalo News they plan to file complaints in court when a one-year window to do so opens Aug. 14. It’s also unclear how many people who did not apply to the diocese program will sue.

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