Independent reparations program meant to ‘help restore peace and dignity to survivors’

Denver Catholic Staff

The Archdiocese of Denver, in conjunction with the two other Colorado dioceses and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, will soon be opening an independent reparations program for those sexually abused as minors by parish priests.

The reparations program was announced in February alongside the archdiocese’s voluntary cooperation with the attorney general in an independent review of all three Colorado dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of minors.

The reparations program will be run by nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and determine financial reparations to survivors who elect to participate. The payments will be funded by the diocese where the abuse occurred.

In a letter written in February, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila explained that the primary reason the dioceses were entering into the file review and the subsequent reparations program was to be as transparent as possible and, ultimately, help to facilitate healing for those who were sexually abused as minors by parish priests.

“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 Aquila wrote. “And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors.”

The program is entirely independent, with no involvement from the three Colorado dioceses other than to fund the program, and it will be overseen by an Independent Oversight Committee led by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. Compensation will be determined solely by the independent administrators, and survivors are free to accept or reject the offers. The dioceses, however, are required to accept and pay the amount determined by the administrators for any survivor who chooses to participate. There is no pool of money set aside, and no aggregate cap on the program.

Further, there is no restriction on a survivor’s ability to speak publicly about the abuse, this program, or any amount that is paid. However, to protect the privacy of the victims, the program and Colorado dioceses will keep the survivor’s information strictly confidential, except to fulfill their legal obligation to report abuse to local law enforcement.

This reparations program is similar to one instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila stressed that the program will be funded entirely by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals or Catholic Charities.

Archbishop Aquila acknowledged how painful this has been for everyone in the Church and expressed hope for this to be a step toward restoring confidence and trust among the faithful, as well as survivors.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” the archbishop said at a press conference in February. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

Information on how to participate in the program will be announced in the coming weeks.

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COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“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,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.