CAMDEN, N.J. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The diocese of Camden, New Jersey is suspending payments to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
The diocese claimed on Friday that a lack of revenue owing to pandemic-related restrictions is forcing it to withdraw from the Independent Victim Compensation Program (IVCP) used to compensate abuse victims. The diocese plans to redirect funds elsewhere.
In its statement, Camden explained its predicament.
"The diocese sustained a precipitous decline in revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic," reads the official statement.
It further addressed the apparent need to prioritize current services and programs over victims:
It [the diocese] is fast approaching a point where it will not be able to continue to borrow the funds necessary to pay the amounts awarded by the program. As a result, the diocese has advised the IVCP administrators that it is necessary to suspend its participation in the program. Although awards already made by the IVCP administrators will be paid, the diocese is instituting a moratorium on further determinations or awards. These steps are necessary in order to maintain the critical programs that the diocese of Camden continues to provide for the communities it serves, which, now more than ever, are so essential.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a spokesman for the diocese said the decision was made without the diocese knowing how many victims would be affected.
Even to be considered for compensation, victims must endure a gauntlet of bureaucratic and psychological challenges. The required paperwork is so detailed that some victims hire lawyers to help them. The written statements force victims to relive their traumas yet again.
"This is going to surprise a lot of people," said Marci Hamilton, a sex abuse victims' lawyer and an advocate for looser statutes of limitations in sex abuse cases. "All I can say is, God bless the victims. They were just told to hurry up, and then wait, and now they're going to have to wait even longer."
Based on the diocese's statement, IVCP settlement payments were budgeted out of donations for the diocese's annual operating budget rather than from endowment income. Victims' funds similar to the one in New Jersey have been set up across the nation. The New Jersey IVCP fund serves not only the diocese of Camden but also the dioceses of Newark, Metuchen, Paterson and Trenton.
The fund is administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros. Feinberg is one of the highest-profile plaintiffs' lawyers in the world. He played a prominent role in the following legal disputes:
Across the nation, dioceses have claimed significant drops in donor income while parishes have been closed following the pandemic. The budget crunch for Catholic churches has been so severe, many Catholic dioceses have applied for government assistance in order to make payrolls.
The diocese reports that clergy sex abuse has cost $1 million for victims' counseling, $10,270,000 in settlements and $7,577,500 from the IVCP fund. In total, the diocese of Camden has spent $18,777,500 in response to clergy sexual abuse.