ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany is offering a new plan for victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese. The plan, he says, maximizes the monetary recovery of victims on a fair and equitable basis, speeds up those payments, and allows the Diocese to avoid litigation or bankruptcy. The concept for the “Victims/Survivors Path Forward Plan” was publicized by Scharfenberger on Wednesday.
The plan was created under the supervision of the New York State Supreme Court, where the Diocese currently has more than 400 pending cases. “Having learned so much from survivors, their friends, and family members, and their stories of abuse, I feel deeply for all those who have painfully spoken and patiently awaited the justice promised by the New York State Child Victims Act,” Scharfenberger said.
The New York Child Victims Act was passed in 2019 and changed the statute of limitations for filing criminal prosecutions and civil claims. The act allowed prosecutors to bring criminal charges in cases of child sexual abuse until a victim turned 28, and gave victims the ability to sue until age 55. The law also created a “look back period” for claims that have been denied in the past. That period has since ended.
Scharfenberger’s proposed plan provides for a Court-approved mediation process to resolve the 400-plus cases. Under the plan, representatives from the Diocese and its affiliates, insurers, and victims/survivors will participate in mediation under the supervision of an agreed mutual mediator. The goal of these mediations would be to create a fund, based upon negotiated contributions of the diocese, and establish protocols and remediation procedures to redress allegations of and prevent abuse.
Participants are free to retain counsel and seek additional assistance from the diocese through the canonical process, accompanied by an assistance coordinator.
Scharfenberger said the plan is meant to benefit both survivors and the diocese. For the survivors, he said the plan was developed in a way that the funds are shared “equitably, instead of those who sued first depleting them, leaving fewer funds for those who sued later.” He added that it also ensures the greatest portion of the funds will go to survivors, and not cover the case’s legal and court fees.
“Typically, when litigation is involved. It can get pretty expensive. Attorney’s in this area can range from a cost of $200-$800 an hour. So in these sort of situations, the Church will say, ‘what can we do to mitigate these costs?’” Explains attorney Ryan McCall with Tully Rinckey PLLC.
For the Diocese, Scharfenberger said the plan allows it to avoid the “costly expenses and prolonged delays that would otherwise be associated with continued litigation,” and helps it avoid bankruptcy. “The alternative to the costly options of litigation and bankruptcy is, I hope, a step through the financial issues so we may open healing dialogue for those who are interested- whenever, now or later, they may be interested,” Scharfenberger said.
The proposal released on Wednesday wasn’t the full plan, but more of an outlining. The full details of the plan will be released in the near future, Scharfenberger said.
“I am aware that offending institutions are not owed, and cannot assume, trust in their credibility or even good faith, so it seems best simply to put the plan out there and to let it stand or fall on its own merits,” he said. “I believe this proposal is a just one, treating all survivors equally.” The bishop concluded by recognizing that financial aid or recovery alone does not address the substantial emotional, spiritual, and relationship wounds of any survivor.
The attorneys for Albany Diocese abuse survivors later blasted the draft proposal, calling it “a clear attempt by the Diocese to both shortchange survivors and to avoid the transparency of open court proceedings, including the production of the Diocese’s ‘secret files’ on abusive priests.”
In a press release Wednesday, attorneys with Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC (PCVA) said the proposal comes just days after attorneys from the law firm sent a letter to the Diocese demanding that it produce its secret files of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children. That letter came, according to the firm, after the Diocese lost its appeal of an order obtained by the PCVA compelling the Diocese to produce those records.
“This is nothing but a last-ditch effort to avoid transparency and accountability with more false promises of fair compensation,” said Mallory Allen, an attorney with PCVA Law who represents dozens of survivors in Albany and hundreds across New York State. “Instead of supporting survivors, the Diocese of Albany has wasted years of time (and millions of dollars) fighting survivors in court and defending its bishops who allowed children to be sexually abused. It recently lost its appeal of a court order to produce its secret files on abusive priests. Our clients are not going to go away because of yet another mediation program that is predestined to fail because it is funded by an entity that doesn’t want to be held accountable or pay fair compensation to survivors.”