Essays on Religion, Faith and Sprituality by Michele Madigan Somerville

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cardinal Dolan's Year of Mercy Plan to Address Clergy Sex Abuse Crimes in NY Archdiocese

New York's top bishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan announced the formation of IRCP, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which would offer survivors/victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic archdiocesan clergy a path to obtaining damages n the Archdiocese of New York, which he heads. According to a October 7th New York Daily News piece that bears Dolan's byline, 170 "victims" have, thus far, come forward to report abuse by 40 priests. Anyone who has followed this crisis knows that those numbers are very low. Still, the formation of the IRCP may be a first step in the right direction. But it must be a first step, not an endpoint. 
Dolan described this new program as one formed with the of Pope Francis I's "Year of Mercy" in mind (The Year of Mercy comes to a close on November 20th, at the end of liturgical calendar year.) Certainly Dolan's program has the potential to extend both mercy and relief to so many who have suffered at the hands of predator priests--New York's cardinal appears to be interested in increasing the empathy. His effort to develop a program for hearing and examining these claims, and plan to award just damages where appropriate, is not nothing. It's a start, but Dolan must do more.
Survivors need more, and Dolan himself needs more if he wants to demonstrate good faith in this effort.He has a poor track record when it comes to responding to the cries of those who suffered, as children, at the hands of predator priests. While archbishop of Milwaukee (2002-2009) Timothy Dolan was credibly accused of hiding diocese money to insulate it from seizure in clerical sex abuse cases. His Milwaukee diocese went bankrupt two years after he departed it. He has been accused of paying predator priests to disappear, has strenuously opposed New York's Child Victims Act in all of its iterations, and he has joined forces with the lunatic Catholic fringe to publicly degrade victims traumatized by sexual abuse by Catholic clerics. 
The 2015 film Spotlight---which had to have left the cardinal feeling jittery---has been out for a little over a year.Timothy Cardinal Dolan's announced the formation of IRCP, the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, which would offer survivors/victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic archdiocesan clergy a path to obtaining damages. According to a October 7th New York Daily News piece which bears Dolan's byline, 170 "victims" have, thus far, come forward to report abuse by 40 priests. Anyone who has followed this crisis knows that those numbers are very low. Still, the formation of the IRCP may be a first step in the right direction. But it must be a first step, not an endpoint. 
Dolan described this new program as one formed with the of Pope Francis I's "Year of Mercy" in mind (The Year of Mercy comes to a close on November 20th, at the end of liturgical calendar year.) Certainly Dolan's program has the potential to extend both mercy and relief to so many who have suffered at the hands of predator priests--New York's cardinal appears to be interested in increasing the empathy. His effort to develop a program for hearing and examining these claims, and awarding just damages where appropriate, is not nothing. Dolan must, however, do more. 
Survivors need more, and Dolan himself needs more if he wants to demonstrate good faith in this effort. He has a poor track record when it comes to responding to the cries of those who suffered, as children, at the hands of predator priests. While archbishop of Milwaukee (2002-2009) Timothy Dolan was credibly accused of hiding diocese money to insulate it from seizure in clerical sex abuse cases. His Milwaukee diocese went bankrupt two years after he departed it. He has been accused of paying predator priests to disappear, has strenuously opposed New York's Child Victims Act in all of its iterations, and he has joined forces with the lunatic Catholic fringe to publicly degrade victims traumatized by sexual abuse by Catholic clerics. 
The 2015 film Spotlight---which had to have left the cardinal feeling jittery---has been out for more than a year. Pope Francis's "Year of Mercy" comes to a close in a little over a month.The Child Victims Act in New York State received plenty of attention in New York City earlier this year, but was defeated. Despite the fact of a lapsed Catholic-friendly pope, the folks who left the pews in disgust following the Cloyne and John Jayreports are not returning. The lack of a presidential candidate the U.S. Bishops can unofficially can be seen as an outward sign of the hierarchy's losing a grip on the next generation of American Catholics. (Tax law prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from electioneering but Catholic bishops have, until presidential campaign 2016, unofficially endorsed "pro-life" candidates. This election year? Not so much.) Powerful public relations maneuvers are needed by the Catholic hierarchs, and the formation of IRCP might be one such maneuver. 
On the other hand, Cardinal Dolan might be rising to the occasion of his vocation. If he can make this first step work and follow it up with a second step, he may dramatically reduce his erstwhile show of poor faith in the matter of the sex abuse crisis. But Dolan stops with a program that operates under his unofficial surveillance; if he declines to make records available to police and prosecutors in his diocese, his IRCP will reveal itself to be a Catholic publicity stunt. If Dolan continues to fight the passing of laws that would protect children from abuse in the future and hold perpetrators accountable, he will look like a weasel doing damage control. 
In the Daily News piece bearing his byline, Dolan claimed that the Archdiocese of New York will take out a loan in order to avoid dipping into collections and other (stewardship) funds. It sounds good, but not exactly true. How will those loans be repaid? The archdiocese of New York is wealthy and can be trusted to find the cash, but whatever the plan is---the cardinal should be forthright about it. He threatened to close down Catholic Charity once, in the course of a tantrum. Catholics who toss cash in the basket on Sundays should be interested in knowing from where exactly the money for this program will come. Many left the church or elected to stop tithing when the John Jay Report came out. They didn't want their collection money to be used for payouts and sex abuse case settlements. Dolan needs to be clear about how the IRCP will be funded.
The trio of "three prominent Catholics" assigned to investigate claims has the potential to be problematic. The long reluctance of Roman Catholic police in to charge priests, pastors and the bishops who protected pedophiles might suggest that putting a Roman Catholic former Marine, NYPD Commissioner, Interpol and FBI investigator on a three-person team in charge of verifying cases brought against the archdiocese is imprudent. The other two Roman Catholics in charge of assessing the veracity of complaints are Judge Loretta Preska and Dr. Jeanette Cueva. Cueva is a child psychiatrist. Two Catholic women and a Catholic super-cop. 
"Master of Disaster" Attorney Ken Feinberg of 9/11, Penn State (Sandusky) mediation and settlement fame has been retained to have the last word on cash awards. He's a top-of-the-line hire who appears not to be Catholic. According to Dolan, Feinberg will have the last word on cash settlements and will scrutinize only those cases that the Catholic trio deems legitimate. Feinberg explains how bringing cases will work: 
"'As with the 9/11 fund, there is a tradeoff...If you decide to participate, you are waiving your right to participate in court... Claimants would need to offer proof of their allegations, including contemporaneous conversations with parents, police officers, friends or teachers; the history of the priests' behavior, or psychiatric records.'" 
Feinberg is expert at evaluating nuances, and his experience with Penn State and the BP oil spill leave him well-prepared to slog through the mire of New York's Catholic clergy sex abuse cases, but ethical and moral questions abound. A church is not a university or a corporation. A priest is not a football coach. Where's the God? 


Depression and addiction are common among adults raped by priests in childhood. The statute of limitations will have run out in most of the cases Feinberg will consider, and many of the claimants in these cases have already been managing two or three decades of trauma. Those who elect to "participate" in the IRCP but do not prevail, give up any right to fight again if the Child Victims Act does pass, and the law changes to extend the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse of children. Those folk will have trusted the cleric in charge--once again, once more--only to lose out. 
Adults who were victimized in childhood by predator priests are often distrustful of clergy. However the church is still responsible for their suffering, and is never free of the obligation to help them to find relief. The church hierarchy, of which Dolan is part, bears the burden of its poor record of responding appropriately to victims of abuse by priests. Historically, pastors have often been punitive and cruel in their responses. Dolan himself has erred in this. He may be trying to make amends as the Year of Mercy winds down. 
If he is truly seeking to facilitate healing, Cardinal Dolan will recognize the need for alternatives to the IRCP. He will understand that the IRCP is not fully independent of his office. He will remember that a church hierarchy that presumed to police itself amidst its own sex crimes failed. Dolan can say the IRCP is "Independent," but he lacks credibility, because in some (not all) senses he is still one of the wolves guarding the hen house. The success, therefore, of the IRCP, depends on Dolan's willingness to take the next step. The IRCP is a good first step. Next, he must strenuously support a soundly written Child Victims Act in the State of New York, offer genuine support to advocacy groups made up of survivors and victims who cry out for justice, and he must provide police investigating sex crimes committed by archdiocesan priests with pertinent records. Thus, Cardinal Dolan can demonstrate that his program is not a stopgap measure disguised as a good Public Relations move.

10/6/16

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