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Buffalo Diocese offers more than $8 million to abuse victims

The Buffalo Diocese so far has offered more than $8 million to nearly four dozen people sexually abused as children by priests, according to victims and lawyers who represent them.

Diocese officials declined to comment on the number of offers to date that have been made or the overall dollar amount. They also would not say how many claims to the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program have yet to be decided upon or when the program will conclude.

But in interviews with lawyers and victims The News has learned that at least 47 victims have received offers that collectively amount to about $8.1 million. The offers ranged from $10,000 to $650,000.

Some victims already have been paid. Lawyers took a quarter to a third of the offers for themselves in cases where they were retained. Other accusers are still deciding whether to accept the money and give up their right to sue the diocese, even as the State Legislature prepares to adopt legislation that will clear the way for more civil lawsuits in sexual abuse cases.

The State Assembly and Senate are scheduled to vote Monday on a Child Victims Act that includes a one-year “look-back” provision allowing abuse victims to sue even in cases that go back decades.

“Now that the Child Victims Act is expected to be passed on Monday, our clients have another option to consider, which is litigation,” said Steven Cohen of Hogan Willig, which represents three people who applied to the diocese’s compensation program.

With Catholic Church resistance fading, state set to pass Child Victims Act

Recipients of a settlement offer have 60 days to make a decision. Some offers were mailed in late November and early December, so those recipients have a week or two left to decide.

P.A. Kane of South Buffalo said the diocese offered him $160,000 in December, and he has decided to accept it, even though he knows potentially he could get much more by going to court.

“I know that it’s a low-ball offer, but it was OK,” said Kane.

Kane said Ronald Silverio molested him in the 1970s when Silverio was a Buffalo Diocese priest. Silverio left the priesthood in 1981 and later became the longtime executive director of AIDS Community Services. Two of Kane’s brothers also said Silverio molested them. The diocese acknowledged that Silverio was “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors, after Kane and his brothers came forward with their stories.

Kane, 56, last July wrote a vivid firsthand account of the abuse and the impact it had on him that was published in The Public, a weekly alternative newspaper. He and his brothers told The News they hoped telling their stories would help prevent future abuse, encourage more victims to come forward and force the diocese to improve how it responds to victims. They also said they wanted the diocese to identify Silverio as an abuser.

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Those goals were more important than a settlement offer, said Kane.

Kane, who has written two published novels, said the money will allow him to retire a year earlier from his day job and focus more on his writing and on taking care of his elderly father.

Besides, he added, litigating his case could take years.

“I’m satisfied with the way things worked out. I’m ready to move on from this,” he said.

The Vatican assigned Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to investigate the Buffalo Diocese through an "apostolic visitation." (Getty Images file photo)

Some abuse victims were outraged by the offers they received.

Wayne Bortle said he rejected a diocese offer of less than $20,000 and “absolutely” will pursue a civil case once the Child Victims Act becomes law.

Bortle, 54, accused the Rev. Robert P. Conlin of molesting him in the rectory of St. Mary Church in Pavilion more than 35 years ago when Bortle was 16.

“For them to offer such a ridiculous award is beyond upsetting,” said Bortle. “What they’ve done now, especially with these offers, they kind of fueled your fire. Now, you want to keep pushing and pushing to expose what happened and let them feel a little bit of the pain for the way they managed it as well.”

Bortle’s lawyer Mitchell Garabedian said the paltry offers put forward by the diocese for some of his clients underscored the need for state legislators to adopt the Child Victims Act.

“The diocese has no interest in settling these cases. They’re doing the bare minimum,” said Garabedian.

The News' estimate of $8.1 million in offers does not include awards to some clients of Garabedian, who did not provide a cumulative account of offers made to his clients. The News also was not able to determine how many people made claims without using an attorney, so the total dollar amount of the diocese's offers could be higher.

The diocese was not offering compensation to everyone who applied. Some people who submitted claims were notified that they are ineligible for the program because they had not made the diocese aware of the alleged abuse prior to last March.

Some lawyers estimated that the diocese’s offers were about three to 10 times less than what clients would receive if they were to win a jury verdict in a courtroom.

But the lawyers said some clients wanted to remain anonymous and did not want to go through a lengthy court process.

Attorney Laura Ahearn said eight of her clients received offers ranging from $75,000 to $480,000. She described the offers as fair and in line with offers to clergy sex abuse victims in similar compensation programs in other dioceses downstate. Some of her clients have yet to receive offers.

The largest offer known so far, $650,000, went to a man who accused the Rev. Michael R. Freeman of aiming a revolver at his head and repeatedly molesting him when he was a child in the 1980s.

The man has about two weeks to make a decision and is considering whether to decline the offer to pursue litigation, said his lawyer Steve Boyd.

Bishop Richard J. Malone has said the diocese will use insurance funds, investment reserves and revenue from the sale of diocesan properties to cover the award offers.

Diocese officials said the bishop's residence on Oakland Place and a former residence for retired priests on Linwood Avenue are both under contract, but the sales have not closed yet.

Victims' tough choice: Accept Buffalo Diocese's dollars or seek justice in court

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