Catholic Fund Begins Offering Cash to Settle N.J. Priest Abuse Claims. Here’s How Many Applied.

By Kelly Heyboer
Star Ledger
July 25, 2019

A new compensation fund backed by New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses is paying its first financial settlements to people who say they were sexually abused by priests and other clergy members.

The fund -- called the New Jersey Independent Victim Compensation Program -- was unveiled earlier this year by the state’s Catholic dioceses as a way for victims to settle their cases with the church privately, without going to court.

The fund began accepting its first round of applicants June 15 and has already considered several cases and made settlement offers, said Camille Biros, co-administrator of the program.

“The program is up and running and going well with 44 claims received as of today," Biros said Tuesday. "Three claim determinations have been made and three settlement offers have been sent to claimants.”

The cash settlements will be paid by the Archdiocese of Newark and the state’s other dioceses -- Camden, Paterson, Metuchen and Trenton.

Program administrators did not say how large the settlement offers will be in New Jersey. A similar fund in New York offered a maximum payout of $500,000 to victims of clergy abuse, reports said.

The new fund gives New Jersey priest abuse victims a choice: Apply for a settlement offer from the new fund or file a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Church.

A recent change in state law will allow victims of sexual assault to begin suing institutions, including the Catholic Church, later this year.

Some victim advocates have encouraged priest abuse victims to consider using the new law to file civil lawsuits because the payouts could be larger and church officials could be held publicly accountable for covering up abuse.

Some victims have said they are more comfortable applying for a settlement from the victim’s fund.

Unlike a lawsuit, the Independent Victim Compensation Program allows victims to keep the details of their cases private when they apply for settlements, administrators said. Victims have a choice of whether to accept a settlement offer. If they do, they agree not to file a lawsuit.

New Jersey’s five dioceses previously paid out at least $50 million in settlements to clergy sexual abuse victims before the new joint fund was established, church officials said.

Earlier this year, the dioceses released the names of 188 priests and deacons “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors in cases dating back to the 1940s. More than 100 of the clergy members are dead.

New Jersey’s Independent Victim Compensation Program is overseen by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who have administered similar compensation funds for priest abuse victims in New York and Pennsylvania. They also headed the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, the BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Fund and a compensation fund for Penn State sexual abuse victims.

Though the Catholic dioceses are funding the settlements, Feinberg and Biros are making decisions independently on how much money to offer victims to settle their cases, church officials said.

Alleged victims have until Oct. 31 to submit a new abuse allegation to the fund and until Dec. 31 to file a claim.

The compensation fund is not tied to the state Attorney General’s ongoing investigation into clergy sexual abuse in New Jersey. A task force set up in September plans to publish a report similar to one in Pennsylvania that exposed hundred of cases of priest sex abuse and how the church covered up some allegations.

A state hotline — (855) 363-6548 — has received hundreds of calls about abuse allegations in multiple religious institutions, not just the Catholic Church, state officials said.

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find her at KellyHeyboerReporter on Facebook. Find on Facebook.








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