The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York said Thursday that it has created a compensation program for people who were sexually abused by priests or deacons and are willing to forego lawsuits in exchange for an award to be determined by an independent mediator.
Some advocates for sex abuse victims immediately assailed the program as an attempt to squash cases quickly, before New York's legislature acts on a proposal to make it easier for victims to sue over abuse that happened years ago.
Under the plan, announced by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, people with abuse claims already pending with the church would have a limited time window -- until Jan. 31 -- to apply for compensation.
The archdiocese said it had hired mediators Camille Biros and Kenneth Feinberg to evaluate the claims and decide how much victims would be paid.
There will be no cap on compensation and the archdiocese has agreed to pay whatever amount Biros and Feinberg order.
Feinberg served a similar role in deciding compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. He has also helped mediate claims in the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal and overseen funds for the victims of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting, the Boston Marathon bombing and the BP oil spill.
His involvement, though, didn't assuage church critics.
A representative of a group called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests blasted the plan as "too little, too late."
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group that collects records on abusive priests,
New York's "restrictive statute of limitations has enabled Dolan to hide the true scope of the clergy abuse crisis in the NY archdiocese," she wrote in an email. "His proposed victims' compensation fund is another tactic designed to fend off disclosure."
New York state lawmakers have long debated extending the statute of limitations on suing child sex abusers, or creating a window of opportunity for past victims to file civil suits against abusers. Such proposals have faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other institutions.
The leading proposal in the Legislature would eliminate the statute of limitations for several child sexual abuse crimes going forward and create a one-year window for past victims to file civil suits. Victims now have until they turn 23 to file lawsuits, but supporters say it can take years before victims step forward. In May, an attempt by supporters in the state Senate to force a vote on the measure failed.
Dolan said Thursday the archdiocese will take out a long-term loan to cover any compensation payments and would not dip into funds contributed by church members to support parishes, schools or charitable works.
The first phase of the compensation program will only be open to people who have already come forward with claims against the church. A second phase will be open to new applicants. Details on how that program will work were not released Thursday.
Dolan called sex abuse by priests "nauseating" and said it's a sin that has "gravely wounded the church."