By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The clock started running Monday for victims of clergy sexual abuse to decide whether to seek financial compensation from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Victims of abuse have until Sept. 1 to file a claim with the independent tribunal that will oversee disbursement of up to $3 million. Claim forms were made available for the first time Monday and will be accepted for the next six months.
Archdiocese officials say they created the fund to provide compensation to victims who might otherwise receive nothing, especially in cases that occurred so long ago that the statute of limitations makes it difficult to successfully sue.
But victims and their advocates complained Monday that the fund is an attempt by the church to resolve claims for a bare minimum while limiting public embarrassment for the archdiocese.
Their greatest objection is to a rule that requires victims to drop any pending lawsuits - and to agree never to file those suits again - before filing a claim with the tribunal.
"It's patently unfair to victims and survivors," said Dan Frondorf, co-leader of the Cincinnati chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "There is no guarantee of compensation and no guarantee of justice."
Frondorf urged abuse victims to boycott the compensation fund.
The archdiocese disclosed last week that 188 children have accused 49 priests of sexual abuse since 1950. More than 70 of them have sued the archdiocese within the past year, but many of those suits have been thrown out of court because of the statute of limitations.
Archdiocese officials say the creation of the compensation fund doesn't mean victims can't pursue lawsuits - it just means they can't file a claim with the tribunal at the same time.
"The fund gives them a choice. They can litigate or they can participate in the fund," said church spokesman Dan Andriacco. "We set up the fund to help victims reach a measure of reconciliation with the church and to receive compensation. Clearly, for some, that's not possible."
One of the tribunal members, former Judge Ann Marie Tracey, said victims should consult a lawyer if they suspect they would be better off suing than filing a claim.
"It's totally discretionary," Tracey said. "They don't have to file a claim. This is an additional vehicle people have to seek redress."
The fund was created in November as part of a plea deal between the archdiocese and Hamilton County prosecutors. The deal resulted in the criminal conviction of the archdiocese on charges of failure to report child abuse.
Anyone who files a claim with the tribunal will be asked to fill out a detailed form describing the abuse, the abuser, when it occurred, where it occurred and other relevant information.
The tribunal will review the claim and give victims the option to speak directly to tribunal members. Tracey said the tribunal will not share claim information with the archdiocese but will consult with the church to confirm basic information, such as priest assignments.
"We don't anticipate it will be a very adversarial process," Tracey said.
There will be no appeal and all decisions of the tribunal are final. The tribunal hired a Cincinnati lawyer, Matthew Garretson, to administer the fund and to help devise a formula for deciding how much victims get.
Frondorf and other victims said Monday the fund forces survivors of abuse to put their trust in the same institution that protected their abusers.
"We must tell the victims not to allow the archdiocese to bully us in the same way as they have in the past," said Christy Miller, who with Frondorf leads the local SNAP chapter.
Information about the compensation fund can be found online at www.thesettlementfund.com or by calling (877) 482-8292.
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