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Amid mounting evidence of widespread childhood sexual abuse involving the Catholic Church, six dioceses in California have created a new settlement fund, which may provide compensation for victims whose claims have been ignored or covered up for decades.
The Archdioces of Los Angeles, and the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernadino and San Diego, launched the California Independent Compensation Program (ICP) on September 16, which is designed to resolve credible claims involving sex abuse by priests and other members of the clergy that stetch back for decades.
According to a press release announcing the California Catholic Church settlement fund, those who have previously notified the dioceses of allegations of sex abuse when they were minors are being sent claims packets, and those who have not previously presented a claim will be able to register with the program, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
The program was created with independent mediator Kenneth R. Feinberg, who has been involved in some of the highest profile settlement funds in recent years, and Camille S. Biros, in conjunction with California Bishops.
The childhood sexual abuse settlement fund will be run by an Independent Oversight Committee (IOC), consisting of California Governor Gray Davis, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet.
The program is being offered as an “alternative” to those who may seek to file a lawsuit against the dioceses, and comes after Governor Davis extended statute of limitation for childhood sexual abuse claims in California, providing victims more time to file a claim.
“Victim-survivors of sexual abuse have already endured tremendous pain. For some, facing that anguish again in a public trial is a burden too heavy to shoulder,” Governor Davis said in the press release. “That is why I support this voluntary, private, and non-adversarial Independent Compensation Program as an alternative, regardless of when the abuse occurred.”
A similar statute of limitation extension is already underway in New York, resulting in hundreds of lawsuits filed over cases which sometimes occurred decades before. A similar legal change will begin in New Jersey later this year.
Other Catholic Church sex abuse settlement funds have been put in place in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado.
The funds came amid increasing awareness about the extent of clergy sex abuse cases that have occurred for decades, and other high-profile situations where abused children are not comfortable stepping forward until decades later.
In August 2018, a grand jury report highlighted cases involving at least 90 Catholic priests accused of sex abuse in the Pittsburgh area, involving allegations and cover-ups that spanned decades.
That report indicated that the Catholic Church of Pennsylvania covered up abuse involving priests who abused more than 1,000 victims, mostly children, over the course of 70 years. After 90 of those priests were identified, it sparked investigations by the Justice Department and states’ attorneys general nationwide.