It took 30 years for a former student to be ready to report he’d been sexually abused by a respected Roman Catholic priest on high school trips.
But it didn’t take long to realize the priest wouldn’t be held
accountable in court.
Though the church said investigators found the allegations credible,
the accuser couldn’t sue or press criminal charges, mainly because of
the passage of time.
Instead, he’s looking to a new compensation process set up by the
Archdiocese of New York, potentially the most extensive effort of its
kind to date.
Some 46 people have filed claims in under two months, and
the total could at least triple.
The program lets people take claims, often too old for court, to a noted outside mediator while keeping painful details private.
Yet victims’ advocates are wary, noting that the archdiocese hasn’t
given any estimate of the payouts or the total it will spend.
activists see the program as a church tactic to shield information about
the handling of problem priests and counter pressure to let decades-old
child sexual abuse cases go to court.
Still, the Philadelphia-area man with sharp, searing memories of
those New York City school trips wants to see what the program offers.
He declines to suggest a number, but money will never be enough.
“Ultimately, he’s not going to have to be judged, and he’s not going
to spend any time in prison over this,” said the man, a 50-year-old in
law enforcement. The Associated Press generally does not name people who
say they have been sexually abused unless they agree to be identified.
U.S. Catholic leaders have been grappling with a clergy sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002, ignited by reporting by The Boston Globe.
Nationwide, the Church has paid nearly $4 billion in settlements since
1950, more than 6,500 clergy members have been accused of abuse and
hundreds have been removed from church work.
The Manhattan-based New York archdiocese - the nation’s
second-biggest after Los Angeles - stands to have the largest
compensation program of its kind so far, said J. Michael Reck, a lawyer
for some potential claimants.
A similar Diocese of Albany program has paid out $2.4 million on 75
claims since 2004. The New York archdiocese already had fielded about
170 as-yet-unsettled allegations before announcing the program Oct. 6.
All the claims filed so far cite abuse in the 1980s or earlier by
priests who are now dead or out of clergy work, said Camille Biros, one
of the program’s administrators. She and Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer
known for overseeing the federal 9/11 victims’ compensation fund, will
decide whether claims are credible and how much to offer victims.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has portrayed the process as a “tangible sign
of the church’s desire for healing and reconciliation” inspired by Pope
Francis’s designation of a Holy Year of Mercy.
It also was a year of increasingly loud calls for New York state
legislation - opposed by the church - that would temporarily let child
sexual abuse victims bring decades-old claims to court. Some victims’
advocates see the archdiocese compensation program as a calculating
“It’s a way to get out in front and posture to the parishioners and
the public that ‘We care,’ and to the lawmakers say, ‘We’re fixing it,'”
while avoiding the level of disclosure and payouts that lawsuits could
force, says David Clohessy, the executive director of Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests.
In California, Delaware and some other states that extended or
temporarily suspended time limits for lawsuits, settlements cost
dioceses tens of millions of dollars and led some to seek bankruptcy
In New York, archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling calls the program
“the best, most direct and most appropriate way” for victims to get
But victims’ lawyer Mitchell Garabedian says it’s tough to assess
without knowing more, especially the scope of the payments. He has
represented over 2,000 clergy sex abuse victims nationwide, including
some pursuing the New York program and others who wish they could.
The program doesn’t cover abuse by members of religious orders, saying the orders are responsible for their monks and nuns.
That rankles Cecilia Springer, who says the Sisters of St. Ursula
were unresponsive to her account of abuse by a nun at a Manhattan high
school in the mid-1940s.
The archdiocese program’s limits are “another slap in the face,” said
Springer, 85, who agreed to be named. “Everybody should be included,
and either (Dolan) takes care of it all or makes the religious orders do
The nun died in 2006, before Springer, a former nun herself, broached
the allegations. The order and the school, now independent, didn’t
return multiple calls about Springer’s allegations.
The man who said he was molested on school trips did see a response:
The priest, Monsignor John O’Keefe, was suspended from clergy work last
year while the Vatican reviews the matter. O’Keefe has denied the
“I want to know what happens, at this point, to him,” his accuser
says. “If I had it my way, part of the agreement would be that he would
sit down and just say ‘sorry’ to me.”