The Diocese of Allentown has retained nationally known administrators for its victim compensation program, has named a respected retired federal judge as chair of the oversight board, and has set an expected timetable for payments to begin.
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program will provide compensation for victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse as one aspect of their healing.
The compensation program will be voluntary. It will be funded by the Diocese but will otherwise be completely independent of diocesan oversight or control.
The Diocese will use its available cash, will sell assets, and will borrow money to the extent possible to provide funding for the program.
The following will not be used for funding of the program: parish assets, school assets, money previously donated for a restricted purpose, and donations to the annual appeal. From the time the program begins, no funds from weekly collections at Mass will be used for its funding.
It is anticipated that funding this program will place the operations of the Diocese under severe financial stress. Nevertheless, the Diocese will work diligently to continue its mission for 251,000 Catholics in its five counties – Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton and Schuylkill.
The Diocese has retained Washington, D.C.-based Attorney Kenneth Feinberg and his colleague, Camille Biros, to administer the program. They are nationally respected, independent compensation experts who will have full authority to provide compensation to victims and survivors.
As co-administrators, Feinberg and Biros will review claims, determine eligibility, and decide compensation amounts. The Diocese of Allentown will have no oversight of their work, will have no say in their determinations of compensation, and cannot overturn their decisions.
Feinberg and Biros administered claims and paid compensation to victims of the 9/11 attacks, the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and other disasters. They also are performing similar roles for other Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania and New York.
To help ensure autonomy, the program will be overseen by an Independent Oversight Committee, which will operate without influence or control from the Diocese of Allentown.
The oversight committee will be chaired by Judge Edward N. Cahn, retired U.S. District Court chief judge and currently Of Counsel with the law firm of Blank Rome. The Diocese is actively seeking other members for the committee.
The exact start date of the program in 2019 will be determined in consultation with Feinberg and Biros and with members of the Independent Oversight Committee. The goal is for the program to begin making payments in the second quarter of 2019, and for known victims to be contacted with information on how to apply during the first quarter of 2019.
“Money alone cannot repair the damage caused to those people who were harmed,” said Bishop Alfred Schlert. “I deeply regret the pain caused by the abusive actions of some members of the clergy. It is my sincere hope that this program will meaningfully assist in recovery and healing for victims and survivors, and for their families.”
Anyone who knows of incidents of abuse, in the Church or outside it, should report it to the State ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313, the State Attorney General’s hotline at 1-888-538-8541, or to local law enforcement. The Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator is available to provide assistance to anyone who, as a minor, was abused by a priest, deacon, employee, or volunteer of the Diocese, or of its parishes. Her direct line is 1-800-791-9209.