Clergy Sex Abuse Survivor Questions Diocese Settlement Offers
By Jenn Schanz
December 20, 2018
Michael Whalen said he felt revictimized after the Buffalo Diocese offered him less than $50,000 through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP).
The south Buffalo man alleges he was abused as a boy by Father Norbert Orsolits; Whalen was one of the first local survivors to share his story of abuse publicly.
"I don't understand how they go about it. I would like to know how they come to these figures," Whalen said.
According to the IRCP summary, settlement offer amounts are determined by several factors, including the nature, extent, and frequency of the alleged abuse.
The program is run by two former judges. The Buffalo Diocese can weigh in on each claim, but isn't allowed to change or reject them, according to the summary.
"It's not really about the dollar amount. It's the validation that this has gone on for so long and they hid it," said Whalen, who's represented by attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
But Whalen also admitted he lives on a fixed income, and was hoping for something more substantial.
"I live week to week. If it wasn't for my girls living with me and my wife, it would be hard for me."
13 of Garabedian's clients have received settlement offers from the Buffalo Diocese. The offers range from $10,000 up to $340,000.
"We now have on this list, on Mitchell Garabedian's list, we have two priests who are members of religious orders," said Dr. Robert Hoatson, a former priest and the founder of Road to Recovery.
Per the IRCP rules, that's a determining factor for whether a claim is accepted.
"Does that mean that all victims of religious order priests and deacons will be compensated? We still don't have the answer to that," Hoatson said.
Whalen said he still wants his day in court, and he could get it if the Child Victims Act passes in 2019. Many are optimistic it will, given that Democrats are now in control of the New York Senate.
The Child Victims Act would change the current state law to give victims of abuse until age 28 to file felony criminal charges, and until age 50 to file a civil suit. The current age is 23 for both civil and criminal charges.
The bill passed in the New York Assembly last session but failed in the then Republican-controlled New York Senate.
A concern many Republican lawmakers have is over the one year "look back" provision, which would allow survivors to seek charges for alleged abuse that occurred decades ago.
The New York Catholic Conference issued this statement on the provision:
"This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed. To be clear, this provision would allow claims from even the 1940s or 1950s to be resurrected."