OGDENSBURG — The Diocese of Ogdensburg is allowing an independent, two-person panel to determine whether financial compensation will be given to those alleging sexual abuse as children at the hands of Catholic clergy across the north country.
The allegations of sex abuse of children date back decades, according to a spokesman for the church.
Catholic officials in Ogdensburg said Thursday that the Diocese of Northern New York has established an “Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program” to assist victims of clergy sex abuse.
In a statement, Bishop Terry R. LaValley said creating the independent reconciliation panel reflects the church’s “contrition to the victims who have reported clergy sexual abuse to the Diocese.”
James Crowley, chancellor and spokesman for the diocese, said the church has reached out to 38 victims. He said those alleging abuse at the hands of clergy received a letter from the bishop last week. He said the abuse allegations go back generations.
“Back to the 1940s,” Mr. Crowley said.
Mr. Crowley said because of privacy concerns, he could not specify a time frame for the most recent allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of diocesan clergy.
“For privacy I really can’t say how recent it is,” he said. “But nothing extremely recent. I can’t do that and respect the privacy of the people involved.”
To be eligible for compensation, claimants must have notified the diocese of allegations of abuse prior to March 1, 2018, according to the church.
In a prepared statement, church officials said the new program stipulates that to be eligible to file a claim, the allegations of abuse must be against an Ogdensburg Diocese clergy member and not against a member of a religious order or clergy of a diocese other than Ogdensburg.
Those who choose to receive compensation will waive their right to future and further legal action, according to church officials.
Thursday’s unexpected announcement is aimed at helping victims of abuse find healing and peace within themselves, according to Bishop LaValley.
It follows a recent announcement by Syracuse Diocese Bishop Robert J. Cunningham that his diocese would begin a process of compensation for victims there. Bishop Cunningham served in Ogdensburg for five years before moving to Syracuse in 2009.
“We can never make them whole or give them back what has been taken from them, but we hope that this will help bring healing to the deep wounds suffered by these innocent victims,” Bishop LaValley said.
Church officials in Ogdensburg say the diocese already has other long-standing programs that offer professional counseling and assistance to victims of abuse. But the decision to offer compensation to those alleging local sexual abuse within the church moves beyond pastoral outreach.
“I have spent time with, and listened to, many victims of clerical abuse,” Bishop LaValley said in a statement. “They often tell me they are asking the Church to assist them in finding peace and healing for the deep wounds of abuse. This is an opportunity for victims to find that healing. We cannot give them back what has been taken from them. Victims have told me they want some tangible sign of the Church’s desire for healing and reconciliation. It is my prayer that this program will give us the opportunity to truly hear their story and offer compensation in a way that brings a sense of healing to them.”
The abuse compensation initiative being undertaken by the Diocese of Ogdensburg will be independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, according to the church. The duo have what church officials call “vast experience in administering voluntary compensation programs,” including as independent administrators of the World Trade Center compensation program, as well as similar voluntary compensation efforts undertaken by other dioceses across New York state.
“Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros were selected to serve as independent administrators because of their skills, competence and reputation for treating claimants with fairness, respect and dignity,” Bishop LaValley said.
Mr. Feinberg and Ms. Biros have full discretion determining compensation for victim-survivors, and the diocese will abide by their decisions, according to Bishop LaValley.
The independent administrators will evaluate the claims of those who have previously reported incidents of clergy sex abuse to the Diocese and determine what compensation will be awarded.
The Diocese of Ogdensburg will take a long-term loan to cover all costs of compensating victim-survivors.
The diocese will not use money contributed by parishioners to support parishes, schools or charitable works to fund the abuse compensation, according to officials. Money from the annual Bishop’s Fund Appeal and other capital campaign donations or gifts are also barred from use, the church said.
A website with more information is available at www.OgdensburgDioceseIRCP.com.
Emails can be sent to claimant services@OgdensburgDioceseIRCP.com.
A toll-free phone number is also available at 833-718-2719.