They normalized a culture of child rape and then asked us to sign away our rights
By Jay Sefton
August 14, 2019
If the Catholic Church had offered me any amount of money in 2007 when I reported the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, I would not be writing this.
I was a 36-year-old active alcoholic struggling to make ends meet and ruining relationships with the people I loved. My abuse came from a pedophile priest named Thomas Smith who cast 13-year olds in a Passion Play he directed every year at my grade school. It was his way of satisfying his “depraved and sadistic” sexual desires, as documented in the 423-page Grand Jury Report from 2005 covering abuses in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I played Jesus.
The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) began in November of 2018 and ends this fall. Catholic Church child abuse survivors can file claims to be reviewed by the administrators of the program, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros. A New York Times article, “From 9/11 to Orlando, Ken Feinberg’s Alter Ego in Compensating Victims,” reports, “The goal with many of these payments is grounded in stark financial reality: Offer victims enough compensation quickly enough, and they will agree not to sue.”
When I called the victims’ assistance hotline in 2007, I was offered therapy. With a skilled therapist, I began the long road of untangling the abuse and deceit I had been exposed to for the first eighteen years of my life. Violent nuns (not all of them) and predatory priests (not all of them) did most of the heavy lifting to shape my self-loathing. I was baptized into a culture of shame and fear that equated being assertive with being selfish, self-love with sinning. I was trained to be a well-behaved Catholic boy who didn’t question authority. During therapy, I regained two things the Catholic Church had stolen from me—my voice and my ability to think critically.
This past winter, more than ten years after I called that hotline, I submitted my claim form to IRRP, with fifty pages of supporting evidence—photos, a narrative recounting my abuse, sections of the Grand Jury Report, and letters from therapists, friends, and my wife. I attended an optional face-to-face meeting with Camille Biros and Ken Feinberg. They are headquartered sugar-borrowing distance from the White House, but I met them at a fancy law office in Manhattan. As I sat in a plush conference room and recounted my story to them, I was interrupted by Mr. Feinberg’s un-silenced cell phone.
Three days after my meeting, IRRP’s “final settlement offer” arrived on my doorstep. The IRRP paperwork states, “The Claimant may not appeal or seek to have the Administrators’ determination reviewed . . .”
In my rejection letter I sent on March 29, I thanked them for making my decision an easy one—I would happily choose to never see a penny from the Catholic Church before agreeing to participate in this fire sale of souls that preys upon the desperation of its victims and shields a wealthy corporation that hired, housed, fed, and protected known pedophiles pretending to be servants of God. They normalized a culture of child rape and want us to sign away our right to a day in court.
Hoping victims will be in a dire enough life situation, IRRP plays a game of pedophilia Moneyball, creating a metrics formula based on human suffering and offering pennies on the dollar of what survivors would receive in court. The same program and law firm was recently used in New York, just before statute of limitations reform there opened a window for survivors to sue.
On May 2, another FedEx envelope from the IRRP appeared at my door. This time a new “final offer” was proposed. When the IRRP guidelines stated “final offer” and “may not appeal,” I had believed them, but here they were, uninvited, negotiating a price tag on my childhood abuse as if they were haggling on a used car lot. I wrote another letter on May 20 requesting a phone conversation with Ms. Biros. During our call, Ms. Biros said they amended their settlement offer after I requested they reevaluate the original.
Whereas I understand and support any survivor that chooses to accept an offer, I could not have been clearer in my first rejection letter—I reject that offer, the new offer, the next offer, the fecklessness of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the organized crime network the Catholic Church has become.
Every Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania since 2005 has had the same recommendation—open a window for survivors. Every time Democratic lawmakers introduce legislation to do this, the Catholic Church spends millions lobbying Republican legislators to defeat the bill. Which of Jesus’s teachings urges the faithful to take no responsibility for their actions?
The struggle continues.