Friday, November 21, 2003

Fund for victims has a big catch

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Archdiocese of Cincinnati officials say the creation of a $3 million compensation fund is an attempt to provide some financial relief for the victims of sexual abuse.

But the lawyers of those victims say the church - not the victims - will be the biggest beneficiary.

The fund was announced Thursday as part of a comprehensive settlement between the archdiocese and Hamilton County prosecutors.

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Church officials agreed to pay up to $3 million into a fund that will be administered by a panel consisting of representatives of the church and the prosecutor's office and a person agreed to by both.

Beginning early next year, victims of abuse will have six months to apply for a share of the $3 million.

Compensation will be available to victims regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

"No amount of money can take away the pain and suffering of those who have been injured by sexual abuse as children," Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said Thursday.

"But I hope that the fund can bring a measure of closure and reconciliation to the victims of child abuse by agents of the archdiocese."

Lawyers for the victims said the fund looks to them like an attempt to discourage the filing of new lawsuits and to force those who have filed suits to drop pending claims.

The reason, they say, is that anyone who applies to the tribunal for relief must agree not to sue for additional damages.

"It seems to be a kind of squeeze play," said Konrad Kircher, a Mason lawyer representing 67 people who say they were abused. "They are unilaterally trying to decide what these victims are entitled to."

The fund is modeled on compensation funds that typically result from large, class-action lawsuits. In those cases, the amount in the fund is determined either by a jury or as part of a settlement.

In this case, however, the archdiocese has created the fund on its own, setting the amount available and determining who is eligible.

And because victims have only six months to decide whether they want to apply, they won't have time to take their chances with a lawsuit and still maintain their eligibility.

"Victims have an option: They can pursue civil cases if they wish, or they can participate in the victims' assistance fund," said archdiocese lawyer Mark VanderLaan. "They cannot do both."

Barbara Bonar, another lawyer who represents alleged victims, said she's encouraged the archdiocese is willing to pay compensation. But she thinks church officials are more interested in encouraging people to drop their lawsuits than they are in paying them their due.

"They're trying to tell victims, 'Take what we're going to give you, or we're going to fight you to the mat in court,' " Bonar said.

Archdiocese found guilty of failing to report abuse
Mike Allen's statement on plea agreement
Despite plea, few see need for bishop's exit
Some of faithful content with plea
Fund for victims has a big catch
Ask a question about the Archdiocese's plea

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