DENVER — The Catholic bishops of Colorado announced Monday an independent reparation and reconciliation program that will provide for victims of clerical abuse in the dioceses who were minors at the time the abuse occurred.
“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila said in an Oct. 7 statement announcing the program.
“And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors. We hope that this independent program creates a simple and non-adversarial means for survivors to have their stories heard and be provided with resources to aid in their continued healing.”
The program will be available to all victims of abuse by diocesan clergy in the dioceses of Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo who were minors at the time when the abuse occurred. There is no statute of limitations in the program for the timing of the abuse.
“No matter how long ago the abuse occurred, we hope anyone who is still suffering in silence will be encouraged to come forward. If any survivor also wishes to meet personally with me, my door will be open,” Archbishop Aquila said.
The Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program, or CIRRP, was designed in collaboration with the dioceses by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, who are administering similar programs in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California. It will be overseen by a committee of five people unaffiliated with the dioceses.
“Feinberg and Biros will have complete independence to determine the eligibility of individual claims, and they alone will determine the amount of compensation offered to any survivor,” Archbishop Aquila said. “The dioceses have agreed to abide by Feinberg and Biros’ decisions, and the compensation determinations are not subject to appeal by the survivor or the dioceses.”
CIRRP is being offered as an alternative to victims in lieu of pursuing legal action against the Church in court, Archbishop Aquila said, and is a voluntary program. While victims will be asked to share some personal information when filing their claims, it will be kept confidential by the program.
“Unlike civil litigation in the courts, this new program provides a process that is non-adversarial and protects victims’ privacy if they desire to remain anonymous. However, there are no restrictions if the survivor wishes to speak publicly about their abuse and participation in the program. Survivors do not need to retain a lawyer to participate, and there are no fees for participating. Compensation for fully completed and documented claims can usually be paid within 90-120 days,” Aquila said.
To be eligible for the program, those filing claims must be reporting an incident of abuse that occurred when they were a minor by a diocesan cleric who was in active ministry at the time of the incident. Those filing claims about abuse incidents that occurred at the hands of members of a religious order, a priest of an out-of-state diocese or a layperson will not qualify for the program. Those who have already reached a settlement with the diocese for their claim will not be eligible for the program.
“However, claimants whose claims were dismissed or barred by a court on the grounds that the Colorado statute of limitations had expired and no other basis remain eligible to file a claim with the program,” CIRRP protocol states.
Those who filed a claim with the diocese prior to the release of the program, but who had not reached a final settlement agreement, will be sent claim packets in the mail. Those who had not previously contacted the diocese prior to the program may register to file a claim online.
Registration for the program is open online from now until Nov. 30, while the claim-submission process is open through Jan. 31, 2020. Claims not previously reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency will be reported to law enforcement through the program.
Claims will be considered eligible based on provided documentation and corroboration, findings by law enforcement, and credibility of the claim. Initial funding of the program will come from diocesan assets and not from donor funds designated for other ministries, schools or programs, the Archdiocese of Denver noted. The total cost of the program and total number of complaints remains to be seen.
The CIRRP program is similar to one administered in the Archdiocese of Denver for victims of abuse in 2006 by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The archdiocese states on its website that victim-protection policies and protocols have been in place in Denver since 1991 and were again strengthened by the U.S. bishops' Dallas Charter in 2002.
There have been no known incidents of sexual abuse of a minor by a clergy member in the Archdiocese of Denver for 20 years, the archdiocese noted on its website, and there are no priests currently in active ministry with known and credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.
“As a result, new cases of sexual misconduct by priests involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in Colorado,” Archbishop Aquila said.
“Nonetheless, the bishops undertake this program in their continued efforts to provide avenues for survivors of abuse to receive assistance to continue their healing.”
“The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound. I realize, as you do, that no program, however well-intentioned and well-designed, can fully repair the damage done to victims and their families,” he added. “But I pray that this new program might provide another avenue toward healing and hope.”