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Diocese of Rockville Centre continues paying clergy sex abuse victims

Reported settlements to victims range from $25,000 to $500,000

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Months after the deadline to submit clergy sexual abuse cases, administrators of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program continue sifting through a range of cases.

The diocese launched its compensation program last October. Phase One, open to those who had previously reported abuse, closed on March 31. Phase Two of the program, for those with new allegations, closed on April 30. To receive compensation, victims had to agree that they would not pursue legal action against the church in the future.

In all, 292 claims were filed, according to Camille Biros, an administrator for the program. Nearly half came during Phase Two. A total of 161 victims have been paid, Biros said, adding that she and fellow administrator Kenneth Feinberg continue evaluating claims.

Feinberg previously oversaw the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, as well as compensation programs for the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Boston Marathon bombing, the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and sexual abuse claims brought against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University.

He and Biros decide the settlement amounts based on a number of factors, including the age of the victim at the time of the abuse, and the frequency and nature of the abuse. Some, Biros said, include information about the impact the abuse has had on their lives, such as the therapy and psychiatric care they have sought.

“What exactly happened? What did they do to these children?” Biros said in terms of what they consider before reaching a number. “. . . We look at the whole picture. We look at everything we can that’s submitted with regard to the individual.” She said she could not comment on settlement amounts.

Patrick Noaker, of the Minneapolis-based Noaker Law Firm LLC, said he is representing 34 people who filed claims in the program. A total of 15 have been paid settlements so far, he said, which range from $25,000 to $400,000. His other clients are waiting for their claims to be evaluated.

Though skeptical of the program at first, Noaker said he thinks it has helped heal some of the victims. “They’ve been able to tell their story and what happened to them, and it’s been believed,” he said. “That’s really important, because a monetary payment says it’s believed.”

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who was portrayed by actor Stanley Tucci in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s series of stories detailing the abuse allegations against priests in Boston, said he represented 25 victims — four women and 21 men — in the program, ranging in age from 37 to 73. At the time they were abused, they were ages 8 to 28.

The period of his clients’ abuse stretches from 1953 to 1997, and their claims name 15 priests, he added. In total, 15 of the victims have so far received settlements from the diocese, from $50,000 to $500,000.

Among them was Thomas McGarvey, who shared his story outside the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s headquarters on North Park Avenue last October.

He was 16 when he alleges that the Rev. Robert L. Brown began sexually abusing him at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Franklin Square. The abuse, which allegedly took place in the church’s rectory, took place from 1981 to 1989, he said at the news conference. Brown has since died. McGarvey received a $500,000 settlement from the diocese, the Herald reported in February.

A 49-year-old Rockville Centre man who wished to remain anonymous also entered the compensation program last fall, claiming that the Rev. John J. McGeever, a priest at St. Agnes Cathedral, sexually abused him from 1983 to 1993. McGeever, who had a bad leg, would ask him to help stretch it as part of his physical therapy, he said, and later to shower with him so that he wouldn’t fall.

The incidents took place in the St. Agnes rectory in Rockville Centre, as well as the rectories of Corpus Christi Church in Mineola and St. Joachim Church in Cedarhurst, the man claimed, as McGeever moved to different churches. 

Though he believes the church has not yet corrected the problem of preventing clergy sexual abuse, he told the Herald that he entered the program in hopes of some closure. He has not yet received a settlement, but expects he will, and said he may donate some of the payment to children who have been abused. “I don’t want it to be just something to profit from,” the man said. “It’s something that other people should benefit from for the tragedies that fell upon them, like me.”

The payouts to local victims come amid allegations against more prominent clergy members. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, 88, was accused of sexually abusing minors and adults over a span of decades. He was removed from public ministry in June when a church panel substantiated claims that he had abused a teenage altar boy 47 years ago, and on July 28, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and church president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said last week that the accusations against McCarrick “reveal a grievous moral failure within the Church.”

The Diocese of Rockville Centre wrote on its website that Bishop John Barres, who leads Long Island’s 1.5 million Catholics, “echoes the words” of DiNardo “addressing the failures of the Church in protecting the People of God and noting the steps the U.S. Bishops Conference will take in addressing these failures.”

Garabedian called the compensation program a “public relations move” by the church to gain favor in the public eye so that a change to New York state’s statute of limitations, which prevents survivors of child sex abuse from taking criminal or civil action against their abusers after they reach the age of 24, would not pass.

A handful of alleged victims came forward to Garabedian after the April 30 deadline, he added, but can no longer enter the program.

“The Diocese of Rockville Centre has revictimized many victims by setting a hard and fast deadline to enter the program,” Garabedian told the Herald. “My experience with regard to clergy sexual abuse cases is that each pedophile priest has sexually molested hundreds of children, and to not keep a program open for a reasonable amount of time is just causing unnecessary pain.”

A diocesan spokesman had not responded to the Herald’s request for comment at press time.