Church Calls Money Aid, Not Hush Funds
Officials Say $225,000 Went to Abuse Victim down on His Luck
By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
January 21, 2003
Albany -- Bishop Howard Hubbard categorically denied Monday that $225,000 paid last year to a man who was sexually abused by priests was intended to keep him from publicly discussing his abuse.
Meanwhile, the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese announced a new policy requiring that payments to victims be reviewed by the diocesan sexual misconduct panel, a five-member body of church officials and lay Catholics.
Two payments in 2002, which were disclosed over the weekend in news reports, were intended to help out the man, who was on the brink of homelessness and emotional breakdown, according to church officials.
"He was free to say whatever he wanted," said the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, spokesman for the diocese. "We would try to help anyone who would come forward for assistance. But we would especially do so if the church felt at least in part responsible for creating the injury."
The man had been evicted from his home, and the money was provided so he could buy a house, church officials said. He was given two checks: the first for $75,000 in June from an escrow account at the diocesan lawyer's office and the other for $150,000 in August from Catholic Charities.
Those payments came before the diocese set the new review policy, Doyle said.
Hubbard announced in May that the diocese would no longer ask victims of sexual abuse to sign confidentiality agreements.
But the man's attorney, John Aretakis, said the bishop repeatedly told the man last year that he was still bound by a secrecy agreement he signed with the church in 1994 regarding sexual abuse by a priest. The man received $150,000 at the time.
Hubbard, who adamantly denied Aretakis' accusation, met with the victim more than a dozen times in 2002. The bishop said he never suggested that the additional payments were contingent upon the man's silence.
Hubbard also never indicated that the man was still bound by the confidentiality agreement signed eight years ago, Doyle said.
The man first told church officials in 1994 that he had been abused by the Rev. David Bentley. Last year, the man came forward again with additional allegations of sexual abuse by other priests and demanded that church officials help him to locate his abusers.
Diocesan investigators found some of the man's allegations to be groundless and continue to look into other accusations, Doyle said. In April, Hubbard removed Bentley, who had been assigned to a church in New Mexico, from active ministry.
The man's relationship with Hubbard and the church soured after he began to feel that the church was not doing enough to help identify his abusers, according to his lawyer.
Sister Maureen Joyce, director of Catholic Charities, said the money was repaid from the diocesan self-insurance fund within 48 hours. It was the largest single assistance package ever provided to an individual by the institution, which has a $35 million annual budget to provide a range of social services throughout the 14-county diocese, Joyce said.
Church officials acknowledged that both payments last year were provided without any release forms or other legal paperwork, a move several attorneys said was highly unusual.
Two members of the board of trustees at Catholic Charities said they were unaware that the agency was involved in the payment of money to victims of sexual abuse by priests. But Trustee William McGoldrick said it was not out of step with the agency's overall assistance efforts.
"In that sense, it's only the amount here that would make it different," McGoldrick said Monday. "I am not overly concerned at this time about the integrity of Catholic Charities and the way it does business."
Trustee Betty Barnette also said she did not know about the payments last year.
Aretakis' client filed a lawsuit in December accusing the head of a church therapy office, Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, of professional malpractice because she allegedly urged him not to hire a lawyer and she discussed his case with the bishop.
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