A group of New Jersey Catholic Dioceses have announced a new compensation fund for victims of clergy sexual abuse, along with counseling programs for sexual abuse survivors, NBC New York reports. Dioceses around the country are struggling to respond to a wave of sexual abuse allegations against prominent members of the church.
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Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, said on Monday, November 19, 2018 that the Archdiocese of Newark would be joined by the Dioceses of Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Metuchen in establishing their Victim Compensation and Counseling Program.
The compensation fund is designed to offer financial damages to survivors of sexual abuse whose civil claims would be barred by the state's statute of limitations, a law that limits the amount of time survivors have to file suit.
Amidst a national sexual abuse scandal, which has unearthed thousands of sexual abuse claims dating back decades, many survivors have found their pathway to the courts barred by a statute of limitations, which is set at the state level.
Advocates and lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New York are currently working to overturn their own statutes and open "windows of justice," which would allow survivors with historical claims to come forward and pursue justice in court.
Similar efforts have not been reported in New Jersey. According to Patricia Teffenhart, writing at NJ.com, the state has long stood against progressive reform for the statute of limitations, putting it out of step with the nation as a whole.
A similar compensation program operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia opened for applications on November 13, 2018, as the Archdiocese sent informational pamphlets about the fund to 342 sexual abuse survivors who had previously reported their claims. While no details on the fund's size have been released, archdiocese officials say claim amounts will not be capped. The fund is truly independent; church officials have no say over payout amounts or eligibility requirements. There is no appeals process.
Applications can be submitted until July 31, 2019. The fund is open to survivors abused within the Philadelphia area, along with Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. Similar compensation programs are expected from Pennsylvania's seven other Catholic dioceses in the coming months. The diocese of Altoona-Johnstown already has one, having created a compensation fund for sexual abuse survivors in 1999.
The announcement of a new compensation program in New Jersey comes on the heels of news last month that the Catholic Church in New Jersey had been subpoenaed by the state's attorney general, in a considerable ramp-up of the state's criminal investigation.
On November 15, 2018, it was reported that the Archdiocese of Newark had been ordered to turn over internal files and reports on the clergy sexual abuse crisis. New Jersey's four other dioceses - Camden, Trenton, Paterson and Metuchen - are also expected to cooperate with the investigation, but have not confirmed receiving subpoenas.
Details on the program have not been made public, but once they are finalized, New Jersey dioceses officials say they will be published. No word yet on how much money will be devoted to the fund, but we do know that the dioceses will set aside a certain amount to finance counseling services to victims. The Catholic Church in New Jersey has already paid out $50 million in settlements to sexual abuse survivors.
"This will give victims a formal voice and allow them to be heard by an independent panel," the Archdiocese writes in a press statement. Reports suggest that details for the program have not yet been set. Church officials say they will meet with various stakeholders - including victims' advocates - in the coming weeks to nail down the particulars.
Also announced Monday was an effort to review internal diocese documents to create a comprehensive list of priests and deacons who have become the subject of credible sexual abuse allegations. Similar lists have filtered out of dioceses across the country, as Catholic officials struggle to manage the fallout of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that named over 300 priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Archdiocese of Newark representatives say their list will be ready for publication by early 2019, and that the process will be completed in collaboration with the state's Task Force investigating clergy sexual abuse. "It is hoped that these steps will aid in the process of healing for victims, who are deserving of our support and prayers," the Archdiocese says.
At present, the Church's inquiry into historical abuse claims will only cover diocesan priests, rather than priests who belong to religious orders, which operate outside diocese control.
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