Cardinal Dolan’s New Victim Fund

Cardinal Dolan of New York recently created a fund for sex abuse victims in New York. He told the press, “I just finally thought: ‘Darn it, let’s do it. I’m tired of putting it off.’” It was as if he suddenly had a divine revelation.

 

Ken Feinberg was brought in to administer the fund, as he did the victim funds for 9/11 and for General Motors’ ignition switch problem. Media coverage was quite favorable. The NY Daily News said Dolan showed "remarkable moral courage." The NY Times reported that several critics said the new fund was designed to short-circuit New York’s reform of its statute of limitation for child abuse. Some other mainstream media had similar coverage – favorable, with minor, second-hand criticisms.

The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) originally ran an October 7 report from Catholic News Service (here). It was little short of adulatory. It contained no critical comments, and few details on the terms and conditions of the program.

On October 24, NCR ran a guest article by Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of BishopAccountability.org, with the headline, “NY cardinal's new compensation program for victims will keep sex abuse hidden.” The difference from their earlier coverage was dramatic.

First, Doyle notes that victims must sign a gag order, effectively blocking any search for the truth. Doyle noted this gag order is extreme for such cases:

“the victims in Dolan's program will be signing releases without the benefit of any information about how their perpetrators were managed. Did archdiocesan officials know or suspect that the priest was a risk to children before the victim suffered abuse? Did the priest have other victims? What happened to him after the archdiocese learned of his crimes? Are children protected from him now? Under Dolan's plan, all of this stays hidden.”

No other media outlet mentioned this gag order.

Doyle also noted that the timing of Cardinal Dolan’s was hardly fortuitous. Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to pass the Child Victims Act in 2017, saying it is a priority. New York’s statute of limitations for child abuse crimes is the third shortest in the nation. After it is reformed – including a ‘look-back’ clause to include older crimes - Dolan stands to face a flood of suits. Cardinal Dolan is using strong-arm tactics, setting a filing deadline of January 31, 2017. He promises an award within 60 days, versus a lengthy and potentially costly trial that will take years.

Doyle also says the program requires victims to give up all future legal claims. This was not previously mentioned.

Background

These are essentially the same tactics the Church has been using since the first abuse scandal in New Orleans, back in the 1980s. At first Church officials try to shame or scare the victims into silence. Then they try to buy their silence. Furthermore, they do it on the cheap, generally paying a fraction of what victims are likely to be awarded by the courts. Doyle’s article omitted this history, which Jason Berry has written books about.

There are at least two major points. First, Cardinal Dolan and other Church officials are less honest than your average politician. When they are not lying outright, they are spouting disinformation, effectively covering up the truth. Their primary concern is their institution. Concern for the flock and the truth lags far behind. That’s part of the selection criteria for Church officials, and is self-perpetuating.

Second, while the Church and other Christian groups often claim they are persecuted by secular society and media, this too is propaganda. Media treats them with kid gloves. Not only do mainstream media fail to investigate these cases, they even fail to mention basic facts such as those disclosed by Doyle. Religious media are generally even worse. Compare the Catholic News Service article to Doyle’s. While NCR deserves credit for publishing Doyle’s article, this was more the exception than the rule.