By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church in New York has created an arbitration system for child victims of sexually abusive priests, providing an opportunity for compensation to accusers who are shut out from filing civil lawsuits by statutes of limitations.
The Archdiocese of New York said on Thursday the program would be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, the influential Washington lawyer who has directed funds for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and several mass shootings.
Feinberg and Camille Biros, a longtime associate who has worked with Feinberg on other compensation funds, will have "complete autonomy," the church said.
The archdiocese has agreed to abide by their decisions, no matter how much money Feinberg and Biros might award to victims. Former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska and child psychiatry expert Jeanette Cueva will comprise an oversight committee.
The arbitration scheme, which was put into place by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, represents a novel approach to compensating victims of predator priests, whose abuse of children has scandalized the church in dioceses across the United States.
The church has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to victims in settlements, but a leading victims' group has complained others have been cut off by statutes of limitations that prevent lawsuits after a certain number of years.
In New York state, those limits are three to five years, whereas many traumatized young victims are unable to denounce their abusers until years later.
A representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) welcomed any program that would aid survivors, but she remained skeptical, given what she considers church protection of abusive priests.
"Once again they're saying yes, our guys committed horrible crimes, but we're going to make up the rules for how these crimes are handled," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for SNAP. "They are the ones who concealed and enabled the predators. We feel it's designed to mollify politicians."
The New York archdiocese, which encompasses 10 counties, has received about 200 complaints about 40 to 50 priests over four decades and has reached settlements with around 30 victims, spokesman Joseph Zwilling said in a telephone interview.
All those priests are either dead or have been removed from the ministry, Zwilling said.
The first phase of the program would handle cases for accusers who have already come forward. A second phase would take new cases.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Richard Chang)