BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has reported paying $17.5 million to 106 child abuse victims who filed claims under a voluntary compensation program.
The payouts were contained in a report released Tuesday by the diocese. It said they would be covered by insurance funds, investment reserves and the sale of church properties but not from Sunday offertory collections.
A new state law allowing a one-year window to file civil lawsuits on decades-old cases resulted in 17 eligible claimants rejecting settlements.
One unidentified man turned down an offer of $650,000, according to his attorney, Steve Boyd. He said the chances of his client being awarded greater damages by a jury were significant because of the “grotesque nature” of the priestly perversion.
Boyd said the abuse occurred over several years by the Rev. Michael Freeman, including aiming a .38-caliber pistol at the head of his client while sexually abusing him. Freeman died in 2010.
Boyd said the Buffalo Diocese knew Freeman was an abuser but instead of removing him from the priesthood, it kept transferring him from parish to parish.
New York’s new Child Victims Law, which takes effect in August, provides a one-year opportunity for alleged victims to file civil suits against the church no matter how long ago they say the clergy abuse occurred.
It was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February, marking New York the first state to establish a legal vehicle for cases that fall outside the statute of limitations.
Opponents of the law contend it is unconstitutional and could end up denying payments to victims who decided to forego the Buffalo Diocese’s voluntary compensation program. The average settlement under the program was $158,622.
Individuals who accepted payments were required to sign agreements releasing “the diocese and any other parties from any and all claims related to his or her allegations of sexual abuse.”
The diocese rejected 135 applications for payments that it said did not meet eligibility requirements. The most frequent objection: the cases had not been reported to the diocese prior to the compensation program taking effect on March 1, 2018. They cases could now be submitted as civil lawsuits.
“The diocese is not yet able to assess the impact of the Child Victims Act,” the diocese said. “For those reasons, the diocese is unable at this time to expand the IRCP (Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program) or proceed with an additional phase of the program.”
The Buffalo Diocese reported earlier that more than 100 priests in the diocese were credibly accused of sexually abusing children over the years.
Details for this story were provided by the Niagara, N.Y., Gazette.