San Diego’s Roman Catholic diocese announced Monday that claims are now being accepted from people who were abused as minors by diocesan priests. Payouts could reach $500,000.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento and San Bernardino also are taking part in the previously announced California Independent Compensation Program.

The so-called ICP is independent of church control.

Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw the Sept. 11, 2011, victims compensation fund, will help run the the program for local diocese. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, nationally known compensation program administrators, have been working with the California bishops since last November to design the program.

In May, Bishop Robert McElroy of the San Diego-Imperial Counties diocese was quoted as saying: “We can’t say ‘no’ to [the program]. The survivor can say, ‘Yes, I think that’s fair, I’ll take it,’ or ‘no.’ It’s so much simpler and less traumatizing than the legal process.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune said payments are usually in the six-figure range, with none exceeding $500,000.

“These programs are generally well received by the victims,” Biros told the U-T. “It’s not so much the money for the victims as much as the acknowledgment that two independent administrators believe them.”

Feinberg, who also oversaw the $7 billion compensation fund Sept. 11, 2001, victims, said: “No amount of money will provide closure to victims. But the program is a small step in helping victims secure some degree of financial security. A claimant who for years, decades, may have been ignored, now has a program where that claim will be acknowledged and validated. Do not underestimate the importance of this.”

Individuals who have previously notified the dioceses of allegations of abuse will be sent ICP Claim packets; individuals who have not previously notified the Dioceses of allegations of abuse will be able to register with the program for an initial eligibility review.

Eligible victims may file claims, regardless of when the abuse might have occurred.

The program will be overseen by an Independent Oversight Committee consisting of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, former California Gov. Gray Davis, and Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“This important program is a necessary response to historic claims of child sexual abuse in the participating dioceses,” Panetta said in a statement.

“Today, it is required that every new claim of abuse must be reported to law enforcement which will lead to the prosecution of those who have abused children. Although the ICP will zealously protect the privacy of any confidential information voluntarily provided by victims to the administrators, victims are free to discuss their history of abuse and their experience with this program.”

He said administrators and the IOC will periodically issue reports regarding the number of claims filed with the program and the amount of compensation provided to those victims.

“The purpose of the IOC is to oversee the effectiveness of the program and ensure that it is administered entirely independent of the church,” Panetta said. “Our goal is to make sure that the public can have faith in the fairness and integrity of the ICP.”

Feinberg and Biro ran similar compensation programs for child victims of abuse covering Catholic dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado.

The six dioceses taking part comprise more than 10 million Catholics, about 80 percent of the state’s Catholic population.

Davis said: “As California’s governor, I signed legislation giving victims of child sexual abuse more time to file legal claims. That legislation also revived claims that were previously barred by the statute of limitations.”

Victim-survivors of sexual abuse have already endured tremendous pain, he said.

“For some, facing that anguish again in a public trial is a burden too heavy to shoulder. That is why I support this voluntary, private and non-adversarial Independent Compensation Program as an alternative, regardless of when the abuse occurred.”

The ICP website can be found at CaliforniaDiocesesICP.com.

The final protocol and FAQ are available on the website.

This new program is voluntary. Child victim-survivors can elect to enter this program as an alternative to pursuing their claims against the Church in court.

Feinberg and Biros will have complete independence to determine the eligibility of individual claims and they alone will determine the amount of compensation offered to any victim.

The dioceses have agreed to abide by Feinberg and Biros’ decisions and the compensation determinations are not subject to appeal by the victim or the Dioceses.

Maria Contreras-Sweet said: “As a Catholic mother and long-time voice for the unheard, I take on this role with a deep sense of responsibility to assure the process is independent, compassionate and provides the abuse survivors and their families a meaningful step towards healing.”

Unlike civil litigation in the courts, this new program provides a process that is nonadversarial and protects victims’ privacy, organizers said.

Victim-survivors do not need to retain a lawyer to take part and there are no fees for participating. Compensation for fully completed and documented claims can usually be paid within 90 to 120 days.

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