As we have written previously in this space, several dioceses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have announced the formation of monetary funds to compensate survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. Like many stakeholders, including virtually all survivor activists and support groups, we have pointed out the limitations of these programs as remedies for decades of abuse and its systemic cover-up by the hierarchy. Of course, it’s good that the Church is finally taking some responsibility for its institutional wrongdoing, and it’s true that, in some cases, the funds may be the only available source of compensation for victims. That is why our clergy abuse team discusses the programs with our clients, and offers to help them navigate the process, where a lawsuit is not available, or, for reasons personal to them, a lawsuit is not a desirable course.
But there are many important things that lawsuits accomplish that the funds are specifically designed not to do. These include the potential of finally bringing to light all the facts of the horrendous abuse perpetrated by priests that shocked even a Pennsylvania Grand Jury that advocated in its August, 2018 report an amendment of the state’s statute of limitations to permit survivors and the families of deceased victims to bring claims in court. The Grand Jury recognized that determination of claims in court, by juries, not administrators retained by the Church itself, was the only way to insure a full remedy for victims and to prevent future abuse.
The diocesan compensation funds should not be used by the Church to limit the compensation of survivors or to attempt to buy their silence. We were dismayed to learn recently that at least one diocesan representative is actively discouraging potential claimants from seeking legal advice or representation in claims under the “funds”—even advising them that they should not even talk to a lawyer about their rights. Of course, any claimant can choose to go without legal representation, and we make that clear when we talk to our clients. But the Church’s ulterior motives for preventing representation are just as clear. We suggest that anyone considering filing an administrative claim with any of the dioceses consider the advice of Abraham Lincoln: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”