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Buffalo Diocese offers sex abuse victims $10,000 to $360,000 to settle claims

The Buffalo Diocese so far has offered as much as $360,000 and as little as $10,000 to settle molestation claims against some of its priests.

Attorneys who represent victims of childhood sex abuse said they recently received compensation offers for 19 clients, ranging from $10,000 to $360,000. They are the first award offers since the diocese announced the program in March.

"It's never enough money to fully acknowledge this level of harm," said attorney J. Michael Reck. "It certainly isn't full justice for what happened."

Reck represents 31 clients who applied to the compensation program. Ten of those clients received award offers on Friday ranging from $25,000 to $360,000.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian said offers ranged from $10,000 to $340,000 for eight of his more than 40 clients who applied to the program.

“Some clients feel re-victimized and others want to accept the money and turn the page and try to move on with their lives,” Garabedian said. “It’s a personal decision.”

The eight victims still don’t believe the Catholic church cares about the pain caused by clergy sex abuse, Garabedian said.

Victims have 60 days to accept or reject the award offer, he said. Terms of the compensation program stipulate that victims who accept a monetary award agree to give up their rights to sue the diocese.

The Buffalo Diocese gave childhood victims of abuse until June 1 to make claims. Former state Surrogate Court Judge Barbara Howe and former state Supreme Court Justice Jerome Gorski are determining award amounts.

More than 90 people filed claims by the deadline, six attorneys who specialize in sexual abuse cases told The Buffalo News back in June. And there were additional claims filed by people who are not represented by those six lawyers.

Bishop Richard J. Malone also acknowledged in November that the diocese was overwhelmed with 191 new claims of abuse over the past year, although not all of those came to the diocese’s attention through the compensation program.

The Diocese of Buffalo's property on Oakland Place in Buffalo, which serves as the bishop's residence, pictured in May 2007. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

Attorney Kevin Stocker said his client was offered $35,000 to settle his abuse claim and agree to not sue the Buffalo Diocese. Stocker described the offer as insulting.

“It’s tough to put a value on wrecking peoples’ lives and wrecking their families’ lives, but I know it’s not $35,000,” said Stocker.

Stocker said the offer arrived Friday in a letter from Howe and Gorski. The two former judges interviewed his client by teleconference in October, said Stocker.

Garabedian and Reck said their clients who received offers were interviewed in November.

Stocker said a Buffalo Diocese priest brought his client into a rectory in the late 1990s when his client was about 13 years old. The priest rubbed up against the boy until experiencing an orgasm, he said.

“He describes the incident as a rape. That’s how he felt,” said Stocker.

The abuse happened one time but resulted in ongoing emotional turmoil, he said

The victim dropped out of the church immediately after the abuse, which led to conflict within his family, Stocker said. The victims, who is 34, now feels conflicted himself over not raising his young son in the Catholic faith, he said.

Stocker said he advised his client not to make any decisions on the offer immediately.

The Buffalo Diocese compensation program was one of several across the state. Settlement awards in downstate dioceses ranged from $25,000 to $500,000, according to lawyers who represented clients in those dioceses.

Reck said most of his clients have yet to be told whether they are even eligible for the program. He also said the program allows for the diocese to learn about victims without revealing anything about how abuse was concealed.

"They will still not disclose the full histories of the perpetrators. That lack of transparency is important to survivors," said Reck. "There's a public outcry and a push from survivors for that accountability."

Howe and Gorski are considering the extent to which the diocese and a person bringing a claim can document and corroborate the "nature, frequency and time of the alleged sexual abuse," according to a summary of the compensation program released by the diocese.

The administrators, in deciding to accept or reject a claim, also consider:

  • Whether the diocese had prior notice of abuse
  • Whether the allegations of abuse are consistent with those made by other victims
  • Whether the alleged abuse was reported at the time to church officials, law enforcement, parents, friends or others
  • Whether there are medical or counseling records relevant to the alleged abuse

The amount of the awards are based on the nature, extent and frequency of the abuse and "aggravating circumstances," such as the age of the victim, the severity of the abuse, the location of the abuse, whether there were threats of physical harm or retaliation, and "significant, verifiable and life-altering psychological damage."

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