(The following article is courtesy of Rayanne Bennett, executive director of the Office of Communications and Media for the Diocese of Trenton and associate publisher of its newspaper, The Monitor.)
Comment Period Underway to Collect Feedback, Answer Questions
Preparations are moving forward for the special program commissioned by the five Catholic Dioceses in New Jersey that will compensate eligible victims who were sexually abused as minors by clergy.
In the months since the Independent Victim Compensation Program was announced by the New Jersey bishops, the program’s Administrators have set up a dedicated website (www.NJDiocesesIVCP.com), posted a Draft Protocol delineating how the program will operate and opened a month-long Comment Period, which is currently in progress. Comments and questions can be submitted through the website, as well as through a public phone conference scheduled for March 29, 3–4:30 p.m. (eastern time). An earlier conference took place March 15.
According to Camille S. Biros, who, together with Kenneth R. Feinberg is administering the IVCP, the purpose of the Comment Period is to elicit feedback from victims or their attorneys, state legislators, activists and other interested parties in regard to the Draft Protocol and to provide victims and their attorneys with an opportunity to submit questions. Biros stated, “At the end of the Comment Period, we will determine, with input from the Dioceses, if any significant changes to the Protocol are warranted.”
Feinberg and Biros were selected for this initiative because of their well-established experience in administering claims for such cases as the Penn State sexual abuse, the 9/11 attacks and aftermath, the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and the terrorist attacks against the Boston Marathon and the Orlando night club. The pair also designed and administered similar-type compensation programs for Catholic Dioceses in New York and Pennsylvania.
The New Jersey bishops commissioned the program to offer recourse to victims whose cases had fallen beyond the existing Statute of Limitations and/or had not previously been settled by the Dioceses. The program follows the many initiatives adopted by the Catholic Dioceses in New Jersey since 2002 that aim to safeguard children and provide assistance to victims.
The New Jersey program, as stated by the Administrators, is an alternative to litigation, and provides eligible victims with a speedy and transparent process to resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law. The program is independent of the Dioceses, leaving the determination of eligibility and the amount of compensation completely to the Administrators.
The 8-page Draft Protocol now posted to the website provides specifics on the policies and processes that will govern the IVCP, including, but not limited to, eligibility; registration; filing; timeline; methodologies for calculating compensation; privacy, and due process.
Biros explained that after the Comment Period a final Protocol will be posted. The implementation date is currently scheduled for June 15, 2019, at which time the Claims Packets will be sent to known victims and registration of new claims can be submitted through the website. The deadline for registration of new allegations is Oct. 31, 2019, and Claims Forms for both known and new victims must be filed by Dec. 31, 2019.
The processing time for each claim is expected to be approximately 60-90 days. Therefore, some claims from known victims might be paid as early as August, 2019. It is expected that all cases would be processed within approximately 90 days after the Dec. 31, 2019 deadline, according to Biros.
Eligibility and Participation
The Draft Protocol states that participation is voluntary and does not affect any rights that the victim (claimant) may have up to the point that the claimant accepts the compensation offered through the program. Before any compensation is paid, a claimant, with mandatory consultation from a lawyer, will be required to issue a release from liability, stating in effect that he or she will not sue the Diocese for the abuse that was processed through the IVCP. Claimants who do not have legal representation will be assigned a pro bono attorney by the Administrators to advise solely on the issue of the binding nature of this release.
Victims’ participation in the program is understood to be confidential and the information submitted will only be used by the Administrators for the purpose of processing the claim, administering the program and for the protection of children through the Dioceses’ safe environment programs. Biros stipulated, however, that the victims are not subject to the confidentiality requirement, and are free to share the information if they choose to.
To be considered eligible for the program, claims will had to have been reported to the Diocese in which the abuse took place and to the appropriate county prosecutor. However, the Draft Protocol notes, “A finding of criminal liability is not required as a precondition for compensation,” through the IVCP.
Eligibility is based on a determination of credibility, described in the Draft Protocol as follows: “The Administrators must find that the facts and circumstances of the claim of clergy sexual abuse demonstrate that the allegations are credible and provide sufficient corroboration and proof to justify the payment of compensation. The Administrators must determine, in their sole discretion, after reviewing all of the information submitted as required herein, that the alleged clergy sexual abuse of a minor is likely to have occurred.”
Regardless of whether a claimant is considered to be eligible through the IVCP, the Draft Protocol emphasizes that the Dioceses will continue to provide for pastoral or psychological counseling, as they have been with all victims who have requested it.
To read the entire Draft Protocol, go to www.NJDiocesesIVCP.com. Anyone interested in taking part in the phone conference set for March 29, from 3–4:30 p.m., may call the following toll-free number: 866-519-2796 and enter the Participant Passcode: 866271. Questions and comments may also be submitted through the website.