What Do the Church’s Victims Deserve?

The New Yorker

The Catholic Church is turning to outside arbiters to reckon with its history of sexual abuse. But skeptics argue that its legacy of evasion continues.

An Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, run by Feinberg and Biros, began hearing and processing claims of priestly sexual abuse for the Archdiocese of New York in the fall of 2016. Feinberg and Biros subsequently established compensation programs in the Dioceses of Brooklyn (which includes Queens) and Rockville Centre (Long Island), and upstate, in the Dioceses of Syracuse and Ogdensburg. Their portfolio is expanding dramatically: five dioceses in Pennsylvania and all five dioceses in New Jersey have signed on, and multiple dioceses in Colorado and California are expected to do so later this year. Other I.R.C.P.s, which are similar to Feinberg and Biros’s template but are not under their supervision, have been established elsewhere, including the Dioceses of Buffalo, in New York, and Harrisburg, in Pennsylvania. Soon there will be Feinberg-branded I.R.C.P.s in the dioceses of two-fifths of American Catholics. His and Biros’s model for reconciliation and compensation is becoming the standard approach to priestly sexual abuse just as bishops worldwide are looking here for standard approaches.

The Church has paid survivors for decades. What makes this strategy different? Part of the answer is that Feinberg and Biros do. Over many years, they have maintained a reputation for probity and independence while disbursing some twenty billion dollars in funds. And the Church’s use of external, worldly arbiters is meant to assuage suspicions of self-protection. Much rides on Feinberg and Biros’s independence, and yet this independence may define the limits of the I.R.C.P.s’ success. Critics of Catholicism from Martin Luther onward have faulted the Church for dealing with matters of sin and repentance through mechanical means: the system of indulgences, the confessional booth. Is the Church today essentially outsourcing a reckoning with its past?

The Church’s response to abuse scandals has had false starts before, however. “For thirty years, the Church has been doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” James Marsh, an attorney who has represented many victims of clerical sexual abuse, told me. Skeptics wonder whether the I.R.C.P.s will prove to be just one more way for the Church to control information about abuse while admitting as little culpability as possible.

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Filed Under  Catholic Church  Child Victims Act (CVA)  Childhood Sexual Abuse  News 

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