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Editorial: This is not what repentance looks like

One could hardly blame the victims of child sex abuse perpetuated by Catholic priests for feeling frustrated.

Many middle-aged adults have steadily come forward after years of misplaced shame to tell their family, friends and community about priests who took advantage of them when they were children. Even now, the tremors of humiliation and rage are palpable.

Coming forward wasn’t easy for them. Nor were the painful accounts of priests, some who methodically planned the molestation. Luring young boys and girls into their lair on the premise of friendship and understanding. In other words, fooling these impressionable young kids into thinking – believing – that they could trust their priests. But they couldn’t.

Now, decades later, the numerous abuse victims stretching across the diocese face yet another obstacle in the form of the program to compensate childhood victims. The level of difficulty strongly suggests that the system the diocese put in place is flawed. It should be made more transparent so that victims’ attorneys can obtain information to mount an effective case.

Without steps to better assist victims who deserve compensation, the diocese opens itself to accusations by some that the process is nothing more than strategy to pay the least amount of money.

Moreover, the effort by this diocese and others across the state to quash legislation in the form of the Child Victims Act, a state bill that would lift the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse, invites criticism and suspicion. The compensation program is one form of repentance and there are credible doubts as to whether it is sincere.

The plan administrators – former state Surrogate Court Judge Barbara Howe and former state Supreme Court Justice Jerome Gorski – will consider whether the diocese had “prior notice” of an alleged abuser’s conduct to determine how much money the victims should receive. However, it is unclear if diocesan officials are obligated to share personnel files that show whether the diocese knew a priest was prone to abuse.

Those making claims of abuse with the diocese are not told what information, if any, the diocese provides to program administrators. The process is best described by J. Michael Reck, an attorney who represents more than 30 clients who filed claims with the compensation program. He called it a “virtual black hole of a protocol.”

Town of Tonawanda attorney Kevin Stocker, who represents six men who say they were molested by a priest as children, described what turned into a futile exercise. He sent a letter to the diocese’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors, with a subpoena for diocesan files on the priest his clients accuse in their claims. “I got an email back from the diocese lawyers, saying basically, ‘You know you’re not going to get that.’ ”

He got nowhere with the program administrators when he sought clarification.

Questions about the local diocesan program comes at a heightened time of awareness, more than a decade after The Boston Globe broke the story on the Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandal. Last week, news broke on the cover-up in Pennsylvania involving bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of priests sexually abused children over a period of 70 years; one came from the Buffalo area. A grand jury report indicated more than 1,000 identifiable victims and covering six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses.

The Diocese of Buffalo should rebuild trust, not only by owning up to decades of misdeeds whose cover-up worsened the pain for so many, but by offering transparency in the compensation program. Even if it means deep financial pain to the institution. It’s the right thing.

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