RICHMOND — The Catholic Diocese of Richmond is now offering victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy members the option to enter into a monetary settlement if they give up their right to sue, the diocese announced Monday.
The launch of the Independent Reconciliation Program comes a year and a half after a Pennsylvania grand jury report found that at least 1,000 children were sexually abused by more than 300 Catholic clergy in that state, reigniting focus on the child abuse crisis in the global Catholic Church.
At the time, Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout promised transparency and embarked on an atonement tour, offering Masses in churches throughout the diocese, holding regional listening sessions and, last February, publishing a list of more than 40 priests whom he had deemed to have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse. Since then, the list has been updated to include 54 names.
The diocese, which includes the Charlottesville area, so far has named four priests who served in the area as credibly accused of child sexual abuse.
“We will never be able to fully compensate for the harm done and we recognize there are many routes that might be followed to achieve justice,” Knestout said in a news release Monday. “We believe this to be the best course for our diocese to reach a just reconciliation with our victim survivors.”
Knestout has refused multiple interview requests since August 2018, including for this story. A diocese spokeswoman did not respond when asked why he would not do an interview or when he will be willing to do one.
The program is intended to help victims in the healing and reconciliation process, and Knestout plans to hold Masses for survivors later this year, according to the release.
The diocese said it does not know how much money will be required to fully fund the program. But it said money from the annual fundraising appeal — which this year is targeted at $5 million — as well as the nearly $103 million pledged to the “Living Our Mission” capital campaign will not be used.
Instead, the diocese will consider using its self-insurance program, investments and loans, according to the program’s webpage.
“The Program will require significant resources, and the diocese anticipates that operating budget adjustments will need to be made in the future as a result,” the diocese wrote.
In order to participate in the compensation program, victims must initiate a claim by April 3 and file the claim by May 15. Claims can be filed at richmonddioceseirp.com.
The diocese has hired BrownGreer PLC, a Richmond-based settlement administration firm, to evaluate claims and determine settlement amounts, which the diocese will not have authority to deny or change, according to the diocese.
Those who are found to be eligible will be offered a monetary settlement determined by a number of factors, including the victim’s age at the time of the abuse, the nature of and number of instances of abuse, effect of the abuse on the victim any assistance provided by the diocese and corroboration of the claim, among other factors.
Victims will have 60 days to decide whether to accept the settlement terms. Those who decide to accept the settlement will waive their rights to take civil legal action against the Richmond Diocese for the sexual abuse but will retain the right to speak about the abuse experience.
Catholic dioceses in the U.S. paid out more than $540 million in settlements from 2014 to 2018, spending an additional $145 million in attorney fees, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2018 annual report on the response to the child sex abuse crisis.
The time frame linked to the compensation agreements shocked Becky Ianni, a leader of Virginia’s chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group that advocates for abuse victims.
“That’s a very short time,” Ianni said of the seven weeks that victims will have to participate in the settlement program. “It is very hard for survivors to come forward.”
Ianni, who is outspoken about her experience of being abused by her local priest, William Reinecke, when she was a child, said she would want to put a lot of thought into filing a claim.
“Our concern from SNAP, as far as compensation programs go, is — yes — victims may get funds that they need, but information is not exposed,” Ianni said. “They’ll lose their right to sue. They’ll lose their right to have their day in court.”
In a news release, SNAP called for Virginia to eliminate its civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse, which prevents people from bringing civil action 20 years after the abuse. SNAP encouraged survivors of abuse to learn about their legal rights before signing any settlement agreement, but said in a statement that it supported anyone who decides that participating in the program is the best course of action.
The diocese announced Friday that a retired priest, Raymond Barton, who once pastored at Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Charlottesville, has been accused of child sexual abuse that allegedly occurred in the early 1970s.
The diocese’s first published list of clergy deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a child included Patrick J. Cassidy. Cassidy had nine assignments in Virginia, including Holy Comforter, according to the list. He was ordained in 1947 and died in 2003.
Two others included in the initial list — Julian B. Goodman and Dennis P. Murphy — also were priests at Holy Comforter before they were removed in the early 2000s, according to news reports. Goodman was forced to resign in 2002 and had worked at Holy Comforter for three years, according to a Virginian-Pilot story from that time.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is investigating the two Catholic dioceses in the state for possible criminal sexual abuse of children and cover-up by leadership. The Diocese of Richmond covers most of the state, while the Diocese of Arlington covers Northern Virginia.
Reports of abuse by clergy or faith leaders can be reported to the Office of the Attorney General at (833) 454-9064 or to the Richmond Diocese at (877) 887-9603.