Catholic church pays $23.9M to victims sexually abused by priests

Six California Catholic dioceses, including Fresno which covers Tulare County, settle with 197 victims abused as minors

LOS ANGELES – Six California Catholic dioceses including Fresno, which covers most of the Central Valley, paid $23.9 million to 197 victims abused by clergy members who opted to settle their claims instead of filing lawsuits.

The last claim from victims had been processed by the Independent Compensation Program (ICP) for Victims of Sexual Abuse by Diocesan Priests in California on Sept. 2, according to announcement by the Independent Oversight Committee. The dioceses launched the ICP in September 2019 to provide any victim/survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest a non-adversarial resolution, regardless of when the abuse occurred. The six participating dioceses were Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Together, the participating dioceses comprise more than 10 million Catholics, or about 80 percent of California’s Catholic population.

The announcement did not divulge the number of claims from each of the six dioceses but news reports show the Catholic Diocese of Fresno has been named in multiple lawsuits for having employed sexually abusive priests since 2003, when the California legislature opened a one-year, retroactive window for survivors of child abuse to file civil claims against the perpetrators and the institutions that covered it up. The Diocese of Fresno was one of 16 Catholic Dioceses in the United States which had neglected to publish a list of credibly accused clergy until last month, when it published a list containing information about 37 priests, deacons, or members of a religious order, of which 24 were priests incardinated with the Diocese of Fresno, seven were extern priests (those ordained in one diocese but later worked in another), and six members religious orders, groups who take a vow of poverty and live with their religious brothers, such as a monastery or convent. A separate list of 29 clerics and members of religious orders are named who have no allegations of sexual abuse of a minor while they served in the Diocese of Fresno but were determined to have allegations against them occurring in other dioceses and are listed on other sources.

All of the names on the list are clergy whose assignments in the Central Valley date back to as early as 1940 and as recently as 2020.

The ICP received claims from a total 929 individuals who newly reported as victims registered on the ICP website, A total of 580 claims were determined and a total of $23,970,000 in compensation was paid out by all dioceses to 197 individuals.

“I am pleased the ICP was committed to a process that treated all victim/survivors, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status, with dignity and compassion,” said former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration Maria Contreras-Sweet. “It was particularly important that the ICP process offered victim/survivors some sense of justice and validation for the inexcusable trauma they endured.”

Sweet is a member of the Independent Oversight Committee, formed to oversee the process for claims handled by the church’s own program, whose members also include former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former Governor Gray Davis.

The program was run by two nationally recognized mediators and private compensation program administrators, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros. The ICP Administrators were vested with absolute and independent discretion to determine each victim/survivor’s eligibility and settlement offer. While the participating dioceses cooperated with the ICP Administrators, neither of the participating dioceses, nor the IOC had any authority to overrule the Administrator’s determinations. Participation in the ICP was confidential and voluntary, and participants were not required to have counsel. However, those that did not have a lawyer were provided one at no charge to ensure they each understood before they accepted the terms of the settlement.

“No settlement alone will ever correct the pain or injustice of childhood sexual abuse. Victims deserve accountability,” said former California Governor Gray Davis, who signed a law in 2003 reopening the civil statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. The state extended and reopened the civil statute of limitations in 2020, which resulted in more claims.

“It was particularly important that we offered a program that provided victim/survivors of sexual abuse with a viable non-adversarial and confidential alternative to a long and protracted litigation process,” said former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

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