The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse announced Wednesday it is establishing a voluntary program to provide compensation for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP) is meant to "promote reconciliation and further healing of those who were harmed by members of the clergy," according to a news release. Only those who reported alleged abuse prior to Wednesday will be eligible to participate.
Bishop Robert Cunningham made the announcement at the cathedral in Syracuse on Wednesday morning. In a letter posted to the diocese website, he said the date of the announcement was significant.
"It is fitting that I am announcing this program on Ash Wednesday — the beginning of our Lenten Journey," the letter states. "The ashes that we receive are a sign of penance, biblical in origin which express our human condition as affected by sin. In this sign, we outwardly express our guilt before God and thereby prompted by hope that the Lord is kind and compassionate, patient and abounding in mercy."
In the release, Cunningham similarly stated that while the diocese "cannot reverse the damage that was done," it hopes that "this new effort will provide an opportunity seek forgiveness for the irreparable acts of the past."
How the program will work
According to the release, the ICRP program was created, in part, based on the success of similar programs in the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre. It will be independently administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who have previous experience coordinating mediation and compensation for those programs, as well as survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and those affected by the BP oil spill.
Individuals who have previously notified the diocese that they have been harmed by a member of the clergy will be contacted by letter and invited to participate in the program. Beyond that, Feinberg and Biros will "retain complete and sole discretion over all eligibility agreements and settlement compensation amounts" and the diocese "will accept their determinations without question," the release states.
The costs of the program will be paid from the Diocese of Syracuse’s general liability insurance program, and not from any money given to the diocese for charitable funds such as the annual Hope Appeal, the Cathedral Restoration Fund or Catholic Charities, the release states.
"There is no question we have made missteps in handling this crisis," Cunningham said of clergy sexual abuse in the release. "However, over the past 15 years, the Diocese of Syracuse has addressed this problem aggressively by reporting all allegations to the appropriate district attorney, ensuring that no clergy with a credible allegation of abuse remains in ministry, and preventing acts of abuse through our highly successful Safe Environment Program. Survivors have been provided counseling, spiritual direction and other support to help them find ways to move forward. As we begin this Lenten season, we must continue to seek forgiveness as a Church and seek reconciliation for those who have been hurt."