A compensation program unveiled Thursday by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York will offer money to victims of sexual abuse if they agree by Jan. 31 to forgo lawsuits and work with an independent mediator instead.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced the plan, calling the abuse perpetrated by priests and deacons a "nauseating" sin that has "gravely wounded the church." But critics denounced the program as a ploy to limit the church's liability before state legislators can vote on a proposal to make it easier for victims to sue.
"Dolan's plan does nothing to expose those who have committed or concealed devastating crimes against kids. His goal here is to forestall real legislative reform that would enable deeply wounded victims from using courts to reveal clergy wrongdoers," Barbara Dorris, the outreach director for the support and advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said in a statement.
Over the past 15 years, the Catholic Church has been dogged by sex abuse scandals involving priests who were transferred from one community to the next, instead of being defrocked. As cases have come to light, the organization has faced heavy public criticism and paid tens of millions of dollars in settlements in the United States.
"The crimes and sins of sexual abuse of minors cannot be kept secret any longer," Pope Francis said during an address last year in Philadelphia. "I commit myself to the zealous watchfulness of the church to protect minors, and I promise that all those responsible will be held accountable."
The archdiocese in New York, which hired independent mediators Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinberg, said it would pay whatever amount they ordered, without a cap.
Mr. Feinberg has decided compensation for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, mediated claims in the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal, and overseen funds for victims of the BP oil spill, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the shooting at an LGBT night club in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year. Even so, victims advocates expressed disapproval of the plan.
"His proposed victims' compensation fund is another tactic designed to fend off disclosure," Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said in a statement.
Alleged victims currently have until age 23 to file lawsuits, but lawmakers in New York have considered creating a one-year window during which other victims could sue the church. Additionally, legislators have discussed eliminating the statute of limitations for certain child sex abuse crimes.
The executive director of SNAP, David Clohessy, called the archdiocese's program an attempt at "short circuiting" potential legislation, as NBC New York reports.
Cardinal Dolan said the archdiocese will take out a long-term loan to cover the compensation payments, without using funds given by church members.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.