NEW YORK – Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany is proposing a new plan for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the diocese that he argues will maximize their monetary recovery on a fair and equitable basis, accelerate those payments, and allow the diocese to avoid litigation or bankruptcy.
The concept for the “Victims/Survivors Path Forward Plan” was publicized by Scharfenberger in a June 29 news release. The plan was formulated under the supervision of the New York Supreme Court, where the diocese currently has more than 400 victim/survivor cases pending.
“Having learned so much from survivors, their friends and family members, and their stories of abuse, I feel deeply for all those who have painfully spoken and patiently awaited the justice promised by the New York State Child Victims Act,” Scharfenberger said.
The Child Victims Act is a New York law passed in 2019 that allows prosecutors to bring criminal charges in cases of child sexual abuse until a victim turned 28, and victims could sue until age 55. It also had a “look-back window,” during which old claims that had passed the statute of limitations could be revived. That window expired on August 14, 2021.
Scharfenberger’s new plan provides for a court-approved mediation process to resolve the 400-plus cases. Under the plan, representatives from the diocese and its affiliates, insurers, and victims/survivors will participate in a mediation under the supervision of an agreed neutral mediator for the purpose of creating a fund based upon negotiated contributions of the diocese, its affiliates and insurers, and establishing protocols and remediation procedures to redress allegations of and prevent abuse.
Participants are free to retain counsel and seek additional assistance from the diocese through the canonical process, accompanied by an assistance coordinator.
Scharfenberger said the plan is a benefit to both the victims/survivors and the diocese. For the victims/survivors, he said the plan was developed in a way that the funds are shared “equitably, instead of those who sued first depleting them, leaving less funds for those who sued later.” He added that it also ensures the greatest portion of the funds will go to survivors, and not to cover the case’s legal and court fees.
Scharfenberger said the plan allows the diocese to avoid the “costly expenses and prolonged delays that would otherwise be associated with continued litigation … or a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization case.”
“The alternative to the costly options of litigation or bankruptcy is, I hope, a step through the financial issues so we may open healing dialogue for those who are interested – whenever, now or later, they may be interested,” Scharfenberger said.
What was released on June 29 wasn’t the full plan, but more of an overview. The full details of the plan will be released in the near future, Scharfenberger said.
“I am aware that offending institutions are not owed, and cannot assume, trust in their credibility or even good faith, so it seems best simply to put the plan out there and to let it stand or fall on its own merits,” he said. “I believe this proposal is a just one, treating all survivors equally.”
The bishop also emphasized an understanding that “financial aid or recovery alone does not address the substantial emotional, spiritual, and relationship wounds of any survivor.”
“One step of amends is a vigorous program of child protection in all church settings which relies on broad training and empowerment to identify and report on suspected abuse of minors,” Scharfenberger said. “Another is a diversity of pastoral and spiritual healing options for those survivors and loved ones who have asked for care.”
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