Limitations of the Catholic Diocese Victims Compensation Fund
In February, the five Catholic dioceses in New Jersey established a victims compensation fund called the Independent Victim Compensation Program. This fund was designed to provide compensation to eligible victims and survivors of childhood clergy abuse within the state. Unfortunately, the limitations of the fund may exclude many abuse survivors who continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the trauma. While there are supporters of the fund, detractors including victims, survivors, and victim advocates discount the fund as a panacea for the issue.
Religious orders and their members do not answer to any particular diocese even if some order members may be ordained, preside over mass, and offer sacraments. They also follow guidelines that may differ from those followed by priests from the diocese. Members of a religious order must receive express approval from the bishop of the diocese in which they wish to serve. More than 15,000 brothers and priests from religious orders practice in the US, according to a 2017 report, and over 25,000 diocesan priests hold positions in US parishes.
Unfortunately, if a priest from a religious order engaged in the abuse of a minor, the survivor or victim is considered ineligible to apply for the compensation fund. Even if the priest served in the diocese during the abuse, the clergy member is not considered part of the diocese and therefore does not fall under the umbrella of the compensation fund. This loophole fails to address the abuse and denies the victim or survivor any closure or compensation for the wrongs committed against them.
Survivors Who Received Past Settlements
Any abuse survivor who was previously granted a settlement from the Catholic church cannot participate in the compensation fund. In the past, clergy abuse claims rarely went to court and were settled out-of-court. Generally, the church did not acknowledge any type of wrongdoing or guilt over the claims either.
A priest from the Diocese of Metuchen abused a young girl over 40 years ago. When the woman was in her 20s, she received a minimal, out-of-court settlement and signed a confidentiality agreement. She cannot receive any compensation through the fund because of the previous arrangement. She feels shortchanged by this exclusion and suggested that even if the church offered reimbursement for counseling services that would be enough.
Compensation Fund vs. Civil Lawsuit
If an abuse survivor applies for the compensation fund, the Catholic church and fund administrators do not offer any type of documentation to the individual about the abuse allegations. A civil lawsuit, however, will fully document the case and the particulars surrounding it through the investigation and subsequent trial or settlement process. This in itself provides the confirmation and closure a survivor requires to move past the abuse.
New Jersey Clergy Abuse Lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr Take a Stand Against Sexual Abuse
If you or a loved one endured the trauma of clergy abuse in your youth, our New Jersey clergy abuse lawyers at the Law Offices of Harold J. Gerr will offer their compassion and legal knowledge when advising you on filing a claim. Please call us at 732-537-8570 or toll-free at 877-249-4600 or contact us online to schedule a free and confidential consultation. From our offices in Highland Park, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout New Jersey including New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Edison, South River, Sayreville, Metuchen, East Brunswick, South Plainfield, Fords, Middlesex, Old Bridge, Iselin, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, and Colonia.