On May 14th, six Catholic dioceses in California declared they would come together to create a “compensation program” for victims of clergy sex assault. This compensation program could be used by survivors as an alternative instead of suing the Catholic Church. Officials state the fund would be available to all clergy abuse victims, including those living in the United States illegally and those prevented from pursuing justice because the statute of limitations expired for them.
“…We also understand that some victim-survivors are reluctant to come to the church for assistance,” said Los Angeles Diocese Archbishop Jose Gomez in a letter to the diocese members. “Our hope with this new program is to give these people a chance to seek redress and healing through an independent program.”
The California dioceses would have no control over the program—everything will be administered independently by mediators. Catholic Church officials hope the program will provide what they call a “non-adversarial” option for victims to choose. They assert this option, unlike lawsuits, maintains victims’ privacy, does not require a lawyer, and has no fees for participating.
“I realize, as you do, that no program, however well-intentioned and well-designed, can repair the damage done to victims and their families,” Archbishop Gomez said. “But I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.”
The dioceses involved—Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego, Fresno, and Sacramento—cover nearly 80% of the Catholics in California, a number that reaches well over 10 million people. However, some express concerns that the Church is skirting the due process of law though the compensation, not allowing victims to have their day in court. SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, released a statement in response the creation of the compensation program.
“Removing a survivor’s right to sue – as is common in compensation programs – can prevent them from forcing using legal tools in the future that can compel dioceses to release information or correct misinformation. This is especially important as right now there is a bill right now in the California Assembly that will open up a new ‘window of justice.’.
SNAP also wrote a letter to the firm in charge of the compensation program criticizing the program’s creation. The letter states that many times compensation programs, like the California one, make victims sign non-disclosure agreements or prevent them from bringing a case against their abuser in the future. SNAP proposes that the process of compensation process lead to victims feeling like pawns in a game of cover-up instead of helping them towards healing.
“We respectfully submit that the same Catholic hierarchy that got us into this mess is now paying to get themselves out of this mess, with the real intent of continuing to cover up their own past and present complicity,” SNAP leaders asserted in the letter.