Exclusive: Discord in diocese's settlement program for sex abuse survivors

    (WHAM photo)

    Rochester, N.Y. – There is discord in a Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester program to compensate victims of sex abuse and resolve longstanding claims.

    The discord stems from a change the diocese wants to make in that independent program. 13WHAM has learned the diocese wants input before the settlements are offered to victims.

    The retired justice overseeing the program says it was not set up that way.

    Six people have had claims of sex abuse deemed credible by the independent mediator hired by the diocese.

    The diocese did not have a say in those six cases – but it wants one in the future. A letter from the diocese attorney to the mediator, retired Justice Robert Lunn, said “I write to request the opportunity to meet with your honor following the completion of your meeting with each claimant, but before the decision is rendered.”

    Leander James, an attorney for several sex abuse victims, is fighting the change.

    “They want to head that off in the future by having a chance to argue to the judge, try to persuade him off of the credibility of the victim,” said James.

    “I can only reasonably suspect this is an effort to put in adversarial procedure by which the diocese would be able to argue why certain claims either shouldn’t be compensated or should be diminished in compensation,” he added.

    In a statement to 13WHAM, the diocese said it has provided Justice Lunn with input from the program’s beginning, and that the input would be beneficial in his assessment of claims. But Justice Lunn disagrees.

    “What’s the value to commenting on something that has not been heard by you?” he asked. “I’m not sure what they would offer post-hearing that they could not have offered prior to the hearing.”

    It’s up to Lunn to decide whether the diocese can have input. He says it’s unlikely to sway him, but it could impact victims – many already wary of the church.

    “We are dealing with people who were sexually abused as children, and they feel the diocese is responsible for that,” said James. “So we already have a suspicion of the sincerity of the diocese.”

    The diocese’s request also has James questioning its sincerity. So far, he’s encouraged victims to go through its compensation program. If a change is granted, he and the victims he represents could be seeing the Rochester Diocese in court.

    Justice Lunn has offered six settlements to victims with claims of sex abuse in the diocese. They range from $75,000-$125,000 – but victims have yet to receive any money because terms are still being negotiated.

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