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Six Catholic dioceses in California, including those in San Bernardino, Orange, and Los Angeles counties, have formed a compensation program for victims of clergy sexual abuse that allows them to settle claims privately, outside the courts, the California Catholic Conference announced Tuesday.

The voluntary program will be available to any person who has been sexually abused as a minor by priests from the dioceses of San Bernardino, Orange, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego.

As an alternative to litigation, victim-survivors can choose to meet with two mediators, in private and without an attorney if preferred, to potentially settle their claims. The mediators, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, will review the claims and determine who should be compensated and the amount offered.

Settlements will occur within 90 days and be determined by the mediators, with no church interference, according to the California Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in the state.

Feinberg and Biros are mediators for similar victim compensation programs involving Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Colorado. The two attorneys also have represented the families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, considered to be one of the largest petroleum spills ever.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on Tuesday was one of several diocesan leaders statewide to announce a new victim compensation program for victim-survivors of sexual abuse by clergy. The program allows victim-survivors to settle their claims privately, outside the courts, through a mediation process.

Oversight board

The Independent Compensation Program for Victims-Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, or ICP, also will have an oversight board that will oversee the implementation and administration of the program. Among its members will be former Gov. Gray Davis and Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Bishop Gerald Barnes of the Diocese of San Bernardino tweeted out a video-recorded statement Tuesday, saying, in part, that the compensation program “builds upon the many steps the Diocese of San Bernardino has taken in ministry to the victims since the clergy sexual abuse crisis came to light in 2002.”

Cant erase the trauma

“In the coming weeks, victim-survivors will be able to come forward and share their stories confidentially with an independent, third-party mediator and begin a process that can lead to their compensation,” Barnes said.

“I know financial compensation cant erase the trauma and lasting impacts of abuse. At the same time, several of my brother bishops of California and I have come to believe, after prayerful reflection, that this program can offer a measure of healing to victims.”

Diocesan spokesman John Andrews said the diocese has paid out more than $25 million to victims of clergy sexual abuse.

In the Diocese of Orange, The majority of abuse cases were settled in early 2005 for $100 million, spokeswoman Tracey B. Kincaid said.

“Since then, due to an extensive culture change in the Diocese of Orange, accusations against priests said to have abused minors are very few,” she added.

Survivors Network prefers day in court

In a statement Tuesday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nonprofit support group, said victims should carefully weigh their options before accepting compensation from the dioceses.

“We believe that the best way to expose wrongdoing and enforce accountability is for crimes to be made public and for punishment and compensation to be meted out by courts, not the institutions that allowed the wrongdoing to happen in the first place” the statement says.

“Survivors deserve a chance to have their day in court and shed light on their abuse, and that can only happen when statutes of limitations are reformed, civil windows are opened, and bishops are held accountable in courts of law.”

Victims also should have a voice in hammering out details of the compensation program, according to SNAP.

“If Californias bishops are serious about creating a compensation program that is to the best benefit of survivors, they should seek to meet with survivors who have had experience with litigation and compensation to help refine and improve this compensation program,” the statement says.

Pennsylvania reignited scandal

The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was reignited last September, when a Pennsylvania grand jury reported more than 300 priests had molested at least 1,000 children over a 70-year period, and that there likely were thousands more victims. The 18-month investigation covered six of the states dioceses.

That prompted dioceses across California, including San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles, to publicly release the names of all priests accused of sexual abuse in the history of each diocese, or update their existing lists.

The six dioceses began working with Feinberg and Biros on the ICP in the fall, after the findings from the Pennsylvania grand jury went public and shed the spotlight on a Catholic Church sex abuse scandal first exposed by the Boston Globe in 2002.

In October, the Diocese of San Bernardino, which represents parishes and parishioners in RRead More – Source