Exclusive: Retired justice's role in settlements between Diocese, alleged abuse victims

Retired State Supreme Court Justice Robert Lunn (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. – For victims who say they were abused by Catholic priests who were ordained or assigned in our area, the only recourse is to begin a process dictated by the Diocese of Rochester.

If they’re over the age of 23, as most of the victims are, state law does not allow for criminal charges or a civil suit.

A retired State Supreme Court justice will play a powerful role in these cases. He is both judge and jury.

When a man was accused of secretly videotaping women at the Oak Park Marina in 1996, a newly-elected justice, Robert Lunn, was assigned to the case. He took great pains to respect the victims’ privacy. 22 years later, Lunn believes that’s why the Diocese of Rochester hired him to handle the sex abuse claims against local priests.

“As odd as it may seem, I really believe the Church is trying to do the right thing and advance the healing process and do the right thing, seriously,” Lunn told 13WHAM. He added, “They really believe that many of these alleged victims have been harmed, and they want to do the right thing and get some kind of resolution.”

Justice Lunn, who is not Catholic, says he will treat the abuse cases as fairly as he has all cases. He alone will decide how victims like Carol DuPre will be compensated by the Diocese. His decision cannot be appealed, and the victims can either take it or leave it.

“It could be a combination of money, counseling, paying for counseling, but I think it’s primarily them trying to do the right thing,” said Lunn.

The money for the victims’ settlements comes from a special insurance reserve fund. The Diocese confirms contributions from parishes like Sacred Heart Cathedral helps pay for the premiums.

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented hundreds of victims, says his settlements typically run between $100,000-$500,000.

Lunn says the amount will be based on the victim, and unlike criminal cases, evidence does not have to be beyond a reasonable doubt.

“When I used to talk to jurors at the end of a case, I would say, ‘Just imagine the scales of justice. It has to ultimately tip in favor of the claimant in order to make that determination,’” he said. He added. “If I get the gut feeling that this person is credible and telling the truth, I probably would be inclined to make an award.”

The Diocese confirmed to 13WHAM it has already paid out $1.6 million to victims of abuse, dating back decades.

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