The Archdiocese of New York may have been motivated to start its own compensation program for victims of child sex abuse as a way to keep lawmakers from passing the Child Victims Act, a report claimed Thursday.
New York Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan had apparently hoped that the payments to victims would remain in-house — and “worried” about the landmark legislation, ABC News reported.
The archdiocese established its independent compensation program in 2016 “to bring a sense of healing, resolution and compensation to victim-survivors,” it said at the time.
But a transcript of a confidential Dec. 2017 call obtained by ABC implies the key reason Dolan “decided to bite the bullet and create a program” was because of the “movement afoot in Albany” over the Child Victims Act.
The claims were made by Kenneth Feinberg, a mediator hired by Dolan to administer the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, during a teleconference with reps of three Upstate New York dioceses, the report said.
“I think the Cardinal feels that it is providing his lawyers in Albany with additional persuasive powers not to reopen the statute,” Feinberg said of the program.
“We are already doing this, why bother?,” he added. “We are taking care of our own problem. I think that is guiding Cardinal Dolan as well.”
Dolan himself was not listed among the participants of the call and doesn’t appear to have been present, the outlet said.
The Child Victims Act was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2019 and made it easier for people who were abused as children to sue for damages as adults.
The church withdrew its longstanding opposition to the measure shortly before it was expected to pass the legislature.
Hundreds of people have since filed lawsuits under the new provision against the church and other institutions.
In touting the archdiocese’s program, Feinberg argued that more negotiated settlements with victims would bolster the arguments of church lobbyists in Albany who said the legislation was unnecessary since justice was already underway.
“We want to be able to show Albany that people are accepting this money and signing releases. You don’t need to change the statute,” he reportedly said in the call.
Feinberg also noted that the legislation could open up various Dioceses to much heftier claims than were being paid out under the archdiocese’s program, saying “Right now, we have not paid any claim, however horrific, at more than $500,000.”
Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling said the independent program was established to “address the desire of victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse to find healing and compensation.”
“The program was offered to state lawmakers as a possible model for an alternative to litigation as passed in the Child Victims Act,” he said in a statement to ABC.
“We still believe that the program has great merit, and continue to offer it to victim-survivors who desire to participate in the program.”
He didn’t address Feinberg’s comments directly, saying: “You would have to ask him.”
“Cardinal Dolan was not a participant in that call, and cannot comment on what he may or may not have said.”
In his own statement, Feinberg touted the “success” of the independent program, saying it had paid out $258 million to victims.
“The program has been extremely well received and individual abuse claims continue to be received and processed notwithstanding the change in the NY statute.”
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