In Lacking Accountability, Church Compensation Funds Only A Half-Apology to Abuse Survivors
In a recent op-ed, Cardinal Timothy Dolan outlined some of the benefits of compensation funds like that in his own Archdiocese of New York. In order to do as the Cardinal says and “ensure that all victim-survivors are at the center,” we want to offer some additional information about compensation funds.
Cardinal Dolan is correct that, for some survivors, compensation can be a key part of the healing process. However, he overlooks the fact that compensation alone is not enough. For any apology to be sincere, there must not only be an acknowledgement of fault, but a course of action to prevent it from happening again. In other words, there must be accountability. And it is in this critical area where Dolan’s apology vis-à-vis his compensation policies falls short.
When survivors disclose their abuse to church officials or their interlocutors throughout the course of the compensation process, the church is not required to publicly disclose new allegations, whether to law enforcement or otherwise. Instead of publishing information that would encourage other survivors to come forward, names are kept hidden. And not only the names of abusers, but also those bishops and others who ignored or minimized allegations, allowing still more children and vulnerable adults to be hurt. And while not the case in New York, in some cases, survivors are even asked to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of the process, further ensuring that information about abusers and their enablers stays internal.
Additionally, these compensation funds are independent only in name. Ultimately, the church officials make decisions on whether or not to find claims “credible,” and, as we have seen before, more than once, church officials are incapable of properly identifying claims that are and are not credible.
It is easy enough to belie the cardinal’s claim that compensation funds are designed “with survivors at the center.” Anyone who examines the process deeply would come to the same conclusion that we have: that while purporting to help survivors, these processes instead put institutional reputation at the center, leaving by the wayside accountability for crimes for which survivors pine.
We are supportive of survivors receiving compensation for the abuse and lifetime of trauma they have experienced, but church-involved compensation funds are not the way to go.
Instead, we believe that the best way for this compensation is to come is via civil courts. If Cardinal Dolan truly wants to put the interests of survivors front and center, he should campaign vigorously for the removal of civil statutes of limitations on sex abuse. He should use his influence and wealth to convince legislators – not just in New York, but across the country – that civil courts and independent authorities are the best way for survivors to find justice and that obstructions like statutes of limitations are only barriers to both healing and prevention.
Over the past several years, there has been a noticeable shift in the way that the American public thinks about and responds to cases and stories of sexual violence. Such a shift should be a signal to legislators that now is the time to take up legislative action like civil windows that will help survivors. The time is now to pass a civil window in New York and bring to light more cases of institutional abuse and cover-up, whether in Catholic Churches, Jewish synagogues, schools, sports teams, or elsewhere.
During this time of awakening, Cardinal Dolan and his brother bishops have been full throated in their half-apologies. Yet in the past several months, independent investigations have sprung up in states across the country, with the hope of more coming in 2019. It is through this accountability, derived in independent actions from courts and legislators, that survivors will receive the full apology that they deserve.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)