California abuse survivors of Catholic priests can seek compensation
Roman Catholic bishops in six of California’s 12 dioceses Tuesday announced the formation of a new reparations program for survivors of child sex abuse by diocesan priests.
The Santa Rosa diocese is not among them.
Instead, local church officials will handle any future misconduct claims using an in-house protocol developed over recent months.
That way, clergy abuse victims can request compensation directly from the church, rather than through the third party that will handle the multi-diocesan program expected to debut this fall.
Santa Rosa’s new Victims’ Compensation Program was quietly announced in the most recent edition of the North Coast Catholic as a more formalized version of an existing approach through which the Northern California diocese has previously provided counseling and compensation to survivors, officials said.
“Anyone who has not come forward is encouraged to come forward,” said Julie Sparacio, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Santa Rosa, which stretches from Sonoma County along the coast to the Oregon border.
The new program is an extension of ongoing efforts by the diocese to bring healing to those who have been abused by clergymen bestowed with spiritual and institutional authority.
But it was developed with the knowledge that several other California dioceses were working with nationally known mediators Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros on a larger compensation fund similar to programs already operating or about to launch in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Colorado.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the dioceses of Fresno, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego, which combined serve 80% of the state’s Catholic population, are participating in the new program. But given its relative size, the likely number of victims and the role that Sparacio’s office would play in providing the names of prospective contacts, many already known to her, officials in the local diocese could not “justify the enormous expense” of a professional firm, representatives said.
“We’re a small diocese with limited resources,” said diocesan attorney Dan Galvin, who serves as an advisor to the Diocesan Review Board. “We thought our resources could be better spent doing what we were already doing informally, more formally.”
Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa was not available for comment Tuesday, but wrote in the May North Coast Catholic that the decision to provide an “ordered pathway” to help those who have suffered “is a sign of the ongoing willingness of the Diocese of Santa Rosa to deal with the serious problems which have occurred in the past.”
“It is my founded hope that the Protocol prepared by the Diocese will strengthen the message to victims of childhood sexual abuse that: we have heard you, we believe you, we affirm you in your trauma and we want to help with a healing process,” he wrote. Those who already have received part of some $31 million in settlements paid out by the Santa Rosa diocese would not qualify for compensation, church officials said.
Any accusations raised against a practicing priest also would take a different course, involving suspension of the accused clergyman and law enforcement investigation before the church would conduct any investigation or take internal action of its own.
But in cases where an accuser can provide credible information of abuse, the church wants to work out “appropriate compensation,” Vasa wrote.