In a handful of Dioceses across New York State, the Catholic Church has offered adults sexually abused as children an opportunity to participate in a voluntary settlement program without having to go to court. The final agreement and release does not preclude the victim from discussing the award or its terms and the information provided in support of the claim is strictly confidential. These programs, known as Independent Reconciliation Compensation Programs (IRCP) have been implemented in the Diocese of New York, Brooklyn, Rockville Centre, Ogdensburg, Syracuse, and Buffalo.
Mr. Kenneth Feinberg and Ms. Camille Biros are the independent administrators for all of the programs except for the Buffalo Diocese which opted to have local former judges administer their program. Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros have vast experience in administering voluntary compensation programs. They were the independent administrators of the World Trade Center compensation program. I have worked with clients from each of the Dioceses and found Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros highly competent and they have treated claimants with fairness, respect and dignity.
Some advocates have criticized the IRCP programs and characterized them as merely a liability limiting strategy designed to derail potential future court claims if the New York law is changed to give sex crime victims a one year window to bring civil actions against their abusers reaching back 50 years. The State Legislature has considered this change year after year but never passed it. If passed, there would be an onslaught of claims brought against the Catholic Church and other institutions in New York such as the Boy Scouts and public schools.
We all now know that there were many sexual predators who were never brought to justice but instead were protected and shuffled around to different assignments where they continued to victimize children who were then systematically silenced through threats and intimidation. The Church hierarchy put her monetary interests above all and critics say that the IRCP programs are just par for the course.
Whether the IRCP programs were aimed at reducing liability or not, the programs have given men who would have never stepped foot in a courtroom an opportunity to tell their story and an opportunity to receive justice, confidentially. In addition, if the Child Victims Act does pass, it is proposed to give a 50 year look back period, the IRCP Programs have had no restriction on how far back a victimization occurred. I have worked with clients in each of the IRCP Dioceses and 98% are male whose ages range from 45 to 81, yes 81! One of my clients who participated in the program was sexually victimized by a known priest predator going back 71 years. This would not have been possible but for the IRCP voluntary program.
IRCP Programs have afforded eligible claimants an opportunity to receive the justice that even a change in New York law would not have afforded them. Programs should be expanded throughout New York State and claimants should be eligible to submit claims against all religious order priests as well.