California Catholic Daily exclusive by Mary Rose Short.
In May of this year, six California dioceses announced a new monetary compensation program for abuse victims. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, and San Diego helped design the Independent Compensation Program for Victim-Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests (ICP), but the program will be independent of Church control.
Instead, it will be run by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who are operating similar programs in dioceses in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado. The dioceses will have no authority to challenge decisions made by the ICP.
Feinberg and Biros have administered many compensation funds, including those for the survivors of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the September 11 and Boston Marathon terrorist attacks.
Under the terms of the program, scheduled to open in September, anyone who was sexually abused as a minor by a priest may make a claim to Feinberg and Biros. The claimant need not have previously reported the abuse.
Feinberg and Biros will assess claims for both veracity and severity and determine a monetary amount to offer. Their offer is binding on the diocese, but not the claimant. All claimants who accept the compensation offered through the ICP waive their right to sue any party in relation to the alleged abuse, although they may still report their claims to law enforcement.
The program is open even to those whose claims are barred by the statute of limitations, but the program will run for a limited amount of time. Critics have noted that this is a way for the dioceses to avoid a rush of lawsuits if California’s legislature extends the statute of limitations.
In anticipation of a possible extension, law firms are competing to recruit clergy sex abuse victims as clients. A recent Internet search for “priest abuse” resulted in up to six separate ads for legal representation on the first page.
Feinberg- and Biros-run programs in other dioceses have satisfied most claimants. The abuse of a minor that led to former cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s disgrace and defrocking was first reported to Feinberg and Biros through their Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program in the Archdiocese of New York.
Feinberg and Biros first worked together in 1979 when Feinberg was former Sen. Edward Kennedy’s chief of staff and hired Biros as his administrative assistant. Feinberg still supports pro-abortion Democrats, donating over $100,000 to Democratic political candidates in the last four years alone. Ninety-four percent of the money went to candidates who were endorsed by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Feinberg donated over $10,000 to the Democratic National Committee and various Democratic political action funds.
Feinberg and Biros have worked pro bono on some victim compensation programs, such as that for the survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, but they are extremely well paid for others. They have no obligation to reveal their take while administering these programs, but, under pressure to be transparent during the administration of the BP oil spill compensation fund, Feinberg released a report that showed that BP was paying his firm a flat fee of $850,000 a month.
The source of funds for both Feinberg’s services and the payouts he will authorize remains unclear. “Each (arch)diocese will draw from their own resources, which could include cash reserves, asset sales and insurance. However, none of the funds used to pay settlements or for administering the program will come from parishes, schools or restricted funds like an (arch)diocesan capital campaign or its Annual Catholic Appeal,” says Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the California Catholic Conference.
In order to ensure that the ICP operates as originally agreed upon, the dioceses appointed an oversight board composed of lay people. The dioceses have announced three members of the oversight board so far, all of whom are Democratic politicians.
“The participating dioceses felt it was important that a group of prominent Californians be brought into the process to guarantee that the concerns of victims were not just respected, but were made the central focus of the process,” says Eckery. “Former California Governor Gray Davis, former U.S. Small Business Administration Director Maria Contreras Sweet, and former White House Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary, and CIA Director Leon Panetta have all accepted our invitation to participate in that oversight committee, for which we are grateful. Their role is to make sure the process is compassionate, fair, and effective in meeting the needs of victims.”
When Gray Davis was first elected governor in 1998, Church officials denied him the use of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament for his inaugural ecumenical prayer service due to his pro-abortion views. The inaugural committee held the service at a nearby event center instead and invited Catholic clergy. Monsignor Edward Kavanagh of St. Rose Catholic Church responded to the committee’s invitation:
“…Surely you must know that Gray Davis is an outspoken, militant champion of violence — the most cold-blooded violence of killing preborn and partially born human beings…It is clear that Gray Davis, by promoting what the pope has called the ‘Culture of Death’ and demanding taxpayers’ money for abortions, has brought on himself automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church…”
Then-Sacramento Bishop William Weigand backed Monsignor Kavanagh and said of Davis: “Anyone, politician or otherwise, who thinks it is acceptable for a Catholic to be pro-abortion is in very great error and puts his or her soul at risk and is not in good standing with the Church. Such a person should have the integrity… to abstain from receiving Holy Communion until he has a change of heart.”
Davis responded to the controversy stating, “I’m unapologetically pro-choice and I’m not changing my position.”
Davis remains the only governor in California history and one of only two in United States history to have lost his seat in a recall election.
Leon Panetta served as chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton. Before that, when Panetta was a congressman from California, he co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act in 1990, which would in effect codify Roe v. Wade, eliminate all state-level restrictions on abortion, and force taxpayer funding of abortion. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities called it “the most radical and extreme abortion legislation ever considered in the United States.” Explaining his views, Panetta said, ”I think there should be no laws on abortion.”
“The prominent Californians who have agreed to participate on the oversight committee are people of integrity whose responsibility is to make sure the victim compensation program is fair, compassionate and responsibly administered,” says Eckery. “They are not representing the Catholic Church and do not ‘work for’ the participating dioceses or bishops. Former Governor Davis also has specific and relevant experience with the issue of victim compensation; he signed the legislation (SB 1779 – Burton) in 2002 that allowed a one-year revival (in 2003) of claims against the Catholic Church that lapsed because of the statute of limitations. The Church did not oppose SB 1779.”
In his letter announcing the new compensation program, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez said, “I want to express my sorrow for this abuse and to apologize to everyone who has suffered. We will remain vigilant in our efforts to protect children, report abuse and reach out to support victim-survivors.”