Victims of clergy sexual abuse can apply for monetary compensation
In his Sept. 14, 2018 pastoral letter, “From Tragedy to Hope,” Bishop Barry C. Knestout spoke about the need for and his commitment to healing among those who were sexually abused by clergy. Part of that commitment was an extensive audit of clergy files by an independent auditor to ensure that no one who had been credibly accused remained in ministry.
Following completion of the audit, he made public the names of priests against whom there were credible and substantiated allegations of abuse. This occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019.
On Monday, Feb. 17, Bishop Knestout continued to fulfill the commitment he made to those sexually abused by clergy when he announced the establishment of the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation Program which allows them to receive monetary payment from the diocese.
“We will never be able to fully compensate for the harm done and we recognize there are many routes that might be followed to achieve justice,” he said. “We believe this to be the best course for our diocese to reach a just reconciliation with our victim survivors.”
Jennifer Sloan, the Diocese of Richmond’s victim assistance coordinator and acting director of the Office of Safe Environment, termed the compensation “a tangible way of the Church expressing its contrition” while noting its benefit to survivors.
“There are a whole range of needs that people may have – medical bills; people who have difficulty maintaining relationships so then you have divorces, which can be very expensive; an inability to hold down a job; different types of addictions,” she said. “All of those things can impact an individual’s financial status. And a lot of those issues and problems can be directly related to the abuse that they endured.”
The Independent Reconciliation Program is independently administered by BrownGreer PLC, a Richmond-based firm that is nationally recognized for its specialization in settlement administration. BrownGreer PLC will be the sole entity in determining how much money a victim survivor will receive from the voluntary program. Neither Bishop Knestout nor representatives of the diocese will have input into the decision.
According to Sloan, there is a good reason for having an independent administrator.
“Victim survivors may not have a complete trust in the Church. So, by having somebody separate from the diocese administrating this program, it allows credibility to the work that they’re doing,” she said, noting that it provides those who are not comfortable contacting the diocese directly an opportunity to work with a third party and to still be able to engage with the Church “without having to engage with the Church process.”
In accepting a monetary settlement from the Independent Reconciliation Program, a victim survivor will be required to sign a release. In doing so, he or she will give up the right to sue or receive any financial assistance from the Diocese of Richmond and BrownGreer PLC.
“In terms of settlements and the releases, those are pretty standard,” Sloan explained. “Whether somebody enters into a settlement with the diocese, whether it’s ours or any other, whether it’s through a program or in a one-off case, it’s standard to have somebody sign a release form.”
Another component of the program is the diocese’s commitment to protecting the privacy of victim survivors. Information submitted by a victim survivor to the claims administrator will remain confidential except as necessary to process the claim, reporting to the diocese so it may follow Church processes and complying with state or federal law — including any requirements of the Attorney General of Virginia.
The diocese’s emphasis on confidentiality does not preclude victim survivors from talking about their claim and their abuse.
“The Church doesn’t want to ever censor somebody’s right to be able to share their experiences. We take peoples’ privacy seriously,” Sloan said. “While we won’t speak to individuals’ experiences that they’ve had, they’re more than welcome to share them because it’s their story, and we don’t want to take that away from them.”
How it is funded
Since the diocese does not know how many claims will be filed through the Independent Reconciliation Program, a specific amount of money has not been reserved. However, the diocese has identified several potential sources for funding it, including its self-insurance program, investments and, if needed, loans.
An answer to a frequently asked question on the diocesan website states, “The diocese will not use funds donated to the Annual Diocesan Appeal, the Living Our Mission capital campaign or any donor restricted contributions or restricted endowments, including those in the Catholic Community Foundation.”
Speaking about the work done by her office, Sloan said they take a “ministerial approach” in their outreach to victim survivors.
“Working with victim survivors is a ministry. We have a great concern and compassion for them and their experiences. And there’s been a lot of hurt and anger,” she said. “Our office tries to meet our victims where they’re at emotionally and spiritually, and we try to be compassionate to them and with them regardless of what their experiences are and what their perception of the Church is, because that’s where the healing can occur.”
Sloan noted that many victim survivors were members of Catholic faith communities at the time they were abused, and that the Church has lost most of them due to the pain they endured.
“We’re called to spread the Good News and to bring people into communion, and these are people we should work toward helping — even if they don’t come back to the Church — to have a different perception of the Church,” she said.
No matter where victim survivors are in their healing, Sloan wants them to know, “We’re here for you.”
“That is the mission of our office, and I hope that we are able to bring some peace to those that we work with,” she said.
Important information about the Independent Reconciliation Program
Timeline for the Independent Reconciliation Program:
For initiating a claim — Friday, April 3, 2020
For filing a claim — Friday, May 15, 2020
Further information about the Independent Reconciliation Program is available at www.RichmondDioceseIRP.com.
Further information about the Diocese of Richmond’s outreach to victim survivors of clergy sexual abuse is available at assistance.richmonddiocese.org.
Jennifer Sloan, Victim Assistance Coordinator/Acting Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Richmond: 804-622-5175