64 Syracuse Area Clergy Abuse Victims Among 981 Nyers to Get Paid by Catholic Church
By Julie McMahon
September 28, 2018
Cathedral.jpg The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in downtown Syracuse, September 2018. (Michael Greenlar | firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sixty-four Central New Yorkers are among the nearly 1,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse in New York state who plan to take settlements from the Catholic church.
The victim compensation program offered through the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse is nearing its conclusion after about seven months. Victims have started to receive and accept financial offers in Syracuse and across the state.
Program administrator Camille Biros said in five New York dioceses, there were 1,262 claims. From that, 1,133 offers were made. As of Thursday afternoon, 981 signed releases to settle the claims.
In Syracuse, 85 victims were invited to participate in the program. That's more than the 76 "credible" victims the church has previously acknowledged publicly.
Chancellor and communications director Danielle Cummings said the nine additional victims have been known to the church, but have chosen not to correspond with the diocese directly. They were still allowed to participate through third parties such as a family member or lawyer.
All of the applicants to the Syracuse program were invited to participate by the diocese, officials said. In other dioceses, including New York City, programs have held a second, open application phase, in which new or yet-to-be-determined victims have an opportunity to apply.
Biros said the Syracuse diocese has not set up a second phase, but didn't rule it out.
Jonathan Little, an Indiana lawyer who represents multiple people with claims against the Syracuse diocese, said some of his clients could not apply for compensation through the current process.
In the Syracuse diocese, 64 people with claims against clergy members have been offered payments and signed releases, Biros said.
The releases mean the victims agree not to sue the church over their abuse. That precludes them from suing if the Child Victims Act, a bill expanding the time frame in which a lawsuit can be filed, passes the New York state legislature.
The releases do not prevent victims from cooperating with investigators.
Syracuse was among five dioceses in New York state to set up an independent compensation program with oversight by attorneys Biros and Kenneth Feinberg.
Biros and Feinberg have acted as mediators for similar funds for victims set up after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings. They are overseeing the victim compensation programs for dioceses in Syracuse, Ogdensburg, New York, Brooklyn and Rockville Center (Long Island). There are eight dioceses in New York state.
Biros said her team looked at each victim's case individually to determine how much to offer in compensation. She said the administrators independently determined the amounts, with each diocese's finances as the only limitation.
She said the administrators considered a number of factors including the age of the child when the abuse started, frequency and how long the abuse went on.
Biros said it's a difficult process that entails comparisons on the nature of the abuse, such as whether it involved an inappropriate touch or a rape. She said other factors, such as whether a child was given alcohol, were also considered. Administrators aimed to be consistent across cases and dioceses, she said.
Biros provided an overview of the claims processed in New York so far, but declined to provide dollar amounts for the offers or discuss individual cases.
Local officials haven't yet said how much money the church will spend to settle with victims, but have promised to do so when the program wraps up, likely at the end of October.
Two victims previously spoke to Syracuse.com about their experiences with the compensation program. One said he rejected a $300,000 offer from the church.
Biros said she expected additional victims in Syracuse to settle.
"The rest are in process," she said. "Some individuals have their information, are thinking about it, weighing the pros and cons."
Public Affairs Reporter Julie McMahon covers courts, government and other issues affecting taxpayers. She can be reached anytime: Email | Twitter | 315-412-1992