Abuse survivor rejects $300,000 settlement offer from Syracuse diocese
By Julie Mcmahon
September 11, 2018
A sex abuse survivor whose claims against a Catholic priest were found credible by the local diocese has rejected a $300,000 settlement offer.
The victim, Kevin Braney, received the offer from the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse on July 25. He informed the diocese the following day that he would not be accepting the offer, he and his lawyer said.
Another victim, Charles Bailey, said he had also received an offer in August. He declined to say how much it was for. Bailey said he plans to accept.
In February, Bishop Robert Cunningham announced the creation of a program to compensate victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Syracuse diocese spokeswoman Danielle Cummings said the program is expected to be completed in October, at which time the diocese will provide a report of the total cost and number of participants.
Cummings said program administrators had already reviewed most of the claims made by applicants and made determinations as to compensation. Cummings said she could not comment on individual cases.
Braney, who now lives in Colorado, previously said he would not participate in the program.
He told Syracuse.com | The Post-Standard in an interview that friends, family and his lawyers urged him to reconsider and at least check it out. After he received a second invitation to participate in May, he met with other survivors of clergy sexual abuse in Syracuse.
After that meeting, he agreed to submit an application, he said, with the hope of it bringing him some peace.
Braney said he ultimately chose not to accept the church's offer in part because it would require him to sign a release promising that he would not pursue any future lawsuits against the diocese.
Braney said he feels like the courts are the only place that can offer him the justice he is seeking. He is hopeful that the New York state legislature will soon pass the Child Victims Act, which would increase the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases, allowing more victims to file lawsuits as adults.
Both Braney and Bailey were critical of the way the Syracuse diocese ran the compensation program.
Bailey said he was interviewed for about 40 minutes in person. He was required to travel to New York City for the interview, which he said was not very in-depth, and was not reimbursed by the church for his travel expenses.
"The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth," he said.
Braney said that while program administrators Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros were kind and compassionate, it was clear in his view that they were appointed by the church only to determine monetary awards and nothing more.
Braney is seeking other remedies for his childhood abuse: He wants church reforms, including the Syracuse diocese to publicly name all the priests who it has determined committed sex acts against children.
"It was very clear these were things the commission could do nothing about," he said.
Braney said at one point during the process, he asked if the diocese would consider giving him a letter of apology. He said he never received a response, and didn't follow up, opting instead to withdraw from the program.
"For me, healing comes with justice. Nothing about this feels like justice," he said. "It just didn't feel right."
Braney's attorney, Jonathan Little of Indianapolis, said he helped five clients apply to the Syracuse program.
Two, including Braney, received offers.
In the other three cases, the church requested additional information, including victims' personal financial information and therapy notes, which Little said made him uncomfortable with the process.
He said the church placed "disingenuous parameters" on the program administrators and characterized the whole program as a "reconnaissance mission by the diocese," to prepare for civil lawsuits should the Child Victims Act become law.
"It became apparent this was about the diocese just trying to cover their civil liabilities," Little said.
Braney said he is hopeful and encouraged by recent developments in clergy sexual abuse investigations.
The New York attorney general last week announced it had issued subpoenas to all eight dioceses in the state. That came on the heels of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that detailed how more than 1,000 children were abused in the state since the 1940s.
Braney and Bailey have become local advocates for victims in recent years.
Bailey said he was raped more than 200 times by Rev. Thomas Neary in the 1960s beginning when he was 10 years old. Neary died in 2001. The church determined Bailey's allegations were credible.
Braney notified the diocese in 2013 of allegations Monsignor Charles Eckermann raped him more than a dozen times in a basement storage room in the rectory at St. Ann's Church in Manlius in the late 1980s, when Braney was a teen.
The church in 2014 deemed Braney's claims credible and removed Eckermann from ministry. Eckermann died in 2016 at 85 years old.