NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in New Jersey will soon be able to apply for compensation from a fund representing all five of the state's dioceses, one of the fund's administrators announced Monday.
Camille Biros, who also is overseeing similar compensation funds in Pennsylvania and New York, said New Jersey's will be different because all five of the state's dioceses will follow the same protocols. Those will be posted on a website by early next week followed by a 30-day public comment period before they are finalized.
The first phase will last at least six months, Biros said, and will focus on alleged victims who have made previous claims. A second phase will focus on new claims.
"We are looking forward to working with the dioceses and are pleased about the fact this is a common protocol for the entire state," Biros said.
A fund Biros oversees in New York has paid out more than $210 million to more than 1,100 victims in five dioceses, she said.
Five months ago, New Jersey's attorney general announced a criminal investigation into clergy sexual abuse on the heels of a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania that found more than 1,000 children had been abused by about 300 priests over a span of decades.
Victims who accept compensation in New Jersey will give up their right to sue, which could be of particular importance because state lawmakers have proposed a bill that could eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims to file civil actions. Currently, adults have two years to sue from the time they first realize the abuse damaged them.
The fund also won't cover abuses by religious order priests, such as Jesuits, who may serve in parishes or schools but are not ordained by the diocese.
Gregory Gianforcaro, an attorney who has won civil settlements for numerous victims of clergy sexual abuse in New Jersey, said while compensation can be a welcome development for victims, it could preclude other redress they might seek.
"Many of the victims want information," he said. "They're looking for the records, the personnel files to be disclosed, as well as other non-monetary relief, such as an apology. It would seem to me that this compensation package is the church's way to get around having to disclose information about their priests."
Biros said there isn't a cap on the amount of compensation per individual victim, but said the highest amount paid out in New York has been $500,000. She also said a recently established fund in the Philadelphia archdiocese has paid out more than $7 million to 85 victims to date.
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