Inside The Fight For Compensation For Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors

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Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Giuseppe Lami/Pool Photo via AP)
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Giuseppe Lami/Pool Photo via AP)

For attorney Ken Feinberg and his longtime associate Camille Biros, their work overseeing compensation funds for survivors of clergy sex abuse is familiar: They represented the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Deepwater Horizon spill.

In order to determine what type of compensation is appropriate, Biros says they look at written documentation of the abuse, such as journal entries, or sometimes the survivor will tell their story in person. She tells Here & Now’s Robin Young those stories can be hard to hear.

“It's very difficult to listen to men who are 65 years old and older … explain what happened to them, and it's as if it happened yesterday,” Biros says.

Biros and Feinberg were recently featured in an article in The New Yorker about how the Catholic Church has been turning to outside counsel to help reconcile its history of sexual abuse.

“We look at the effects on life,” Biros says. “We look at whether he or she was able to maintain any personal intimate relationships as an adult. A lot of claimants question their own sexuality. So we look at all the material that's available to us to make a determination” about what type of compensation is appropriate.

Interview Highlights

On how she can tell within 30 seconds if someone is telling the truth

"In some cases when the abuser is a recidivist abuser, we look to other cases, other abuse by that particular individual, and we see if we can find a similar M.O., if you will, or any other information about what the priest did to those other children? You know, did he provide alcohol and drugs, pornography? We look at every aspect of all of these cases to see if we can assist the claimant with coming through the program with some sort of corroboration. There are a few cases that we did [that] the interview didn't provide any additional corroboration, and we rejected those claims."

"A lot of these victims are completely estranged from the church. But there are a number that still believe and want to maintain a relationship, so it's very difficult."

Camille Biros

On critics who argue the Catholic Church is still evading these claims and proposed changes to the law that would allow more survivors to come forward

"I have a couple of comments about that. We hear from many of the claimants when they come through this program that it's really not about the money and the compensation. It has everything to do with the acknowledgment by both myself and Ken Feinberg as the administrators of these programs that we believe them. We believe this happened to them. We're not questioning that this happened to them, and they are grateful for that acknowledgement and validation of the fact that all these years they've been telling the story, and now they're telling it, and people are believing it.

"With regard to the changing of the law, when we first began this process with the Archdiocese of New York — that was in the fall of 2016 — and it's my understanding that they had attempted a change in the statute for several years, and it didn't pass ... until this year. And quite frankly that will give these victims another avenue. Once the law is in effect and they can bring suit, they can decide, 'Do I want to come into this private program or do I want to actually file suit and go through that whole process of discovery and witnesses and a trial?' And they have an option. They even have the option of coming into our program to see what our determination would be, and if they choose to accept it, they may. If they choose to reject it and move forward to a lawsuit, they can do that. So it gives them another option as far as I'm concerned."

On how their program gives the survivors more privacy 

"I think it does. And you know, there are a number — it's not a large number — but there are a number of victims who ask if we can facilitate a meeting with the bishop of the particular diocese or the cardinal in the case of the archdiocese. And we have done so. There aren't a tremendous number who want to go back to the church and have these discussions.

"A lot of these victims are completely estranged from the church. But there are a number that still believe and want to maintain a relationship, so it's very difficult.

"The program and the administrators are bound by confidentiality. The claimant and the victim, on the other hand, can say whatever they wish to. They can tell the news media. They can stand on the cathedral steps. They can do whatever they want to do because they are not bound. They are free to speak about the abuser, the process, the money, the church, whatever they wish."

Alex Ashlock produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on April 22, 2019.


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Robin Young brings more than 25 years of broadcast experience to her role as host of Here & Now.



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