The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said Thursday that it would pay financial reparations to victims of clergy sex abuse, even from years ago.
The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations effort will be funded by the archdiocese, which said it was not sure how much money would be required but that the financial commitment was "significant."
The archdiocese also announced the creation of an independent commission to review church policies, led by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
Archbishop Charles Chaput made the announcement in his weekly column Thursday. The dioceses of Harrisburg, Scranton and Allentown also announced similar programs Thursday; the Erie Diocese said it would set up a fund, but it didn't disclose any details.
"The damage done to innocent young people and their families by sexual abuse in the past is profound," Chaput wrote. "It can’t be erased by apologies, no matter how sincere. And money can’t buy back a wounded person’s wholeness. But what compensation can do is acknowledge the evil done and meaningfully assist survivors as they work to find greater peace in their lives."
Chaput stressed that money for the reparations would not come from donations to Catholic Charities, seminaries or donations made to parishes, ministries, and schools.
The money may come from selling off church properties, Chaput said.
The abuse survivor's group SNAP said that other dioceses, including New York City, "feeling the heat" have started similar compensation programs.
But a spokesman questioned whether the program would be transparent.
Instead, the goal of some reparation programs is "to keep the secrets, secrets” and to "help stall legislative reform," said David G. Clohessy, director of the St. Louis chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priest.
“Victims deserve the opportunity for relatively faster settlements, if they want it, but victims also deserve the right to go to court,” Clohessy said.
The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations program is also independent from survivor assistance efforts of the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection, which has already paid out $18 million to victims. And it's separate from any legal settlements that the church may be ordered to make.
The confidential compensation will be determined by independent claim administrators, Chaput said. Lynn Shiner, who has served as director of the Pennsylvania Office of Victims’ Services, will represent victims as the program's victim support facilitator.
"The program is designed to help survivors come forward in an atmosphere where they are secure and respected, without the uncertainty, conflict and stress of litigation,” Chaput said.
The archdiocese consulted with violent crime survivors and advocates to form the program, Chaput said.
The announcement comes months after a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report exposed hundreds of instances of clergy abuse across the rest of Pennsylvania.
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Philadelphia’s church had already been the focus of a 2005 grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse, which found former cardinals John Krol and Anthony Bevilacqua were involved in the cover-up of a sex scandal against accused priests throughout the archdiocese.
Another grand jury report in 2011 made new charges against priests still serving in the archdiocese.
In 2012, Philadelphia Monsignor William Lynn became the first Catholic church official to be convicted in the country of covering up sex abuse among priests in his charge.
Back in September, Chaput pledged to compensate sexual abuse survivors, he noted in his latest column.
“I deeply regret the pain that so many victims carry from the experience of sex abuse,” he said. “I hope this program will bring them a measure of peace.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.