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Diocese of Syracuse starting compensation program for past sexual abuse victims

Bishop Cunningham announced the establishment of the voluntary Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP) during a news conference Wednesday.

The Diocese of Syracuse is starting an independent compensation program for victims of past clergy sexual abuse.

Bishop Cunningham announced the establishment of the voluntary Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP) during a news conference Wednesday. According to the Diocese, the purpose of the program is to promote reconciliation and further the healing of those harmed by members of the clergy.

"Child sexual abuse is a grave sin and a crime. And no child is responsible for his or her abuse ever," Cunningham said. "We will not return to the mistakes of the past."

The program will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros who the Diocese said are known for their experience in mediation and administration of compensation programs including downstate IRCP programs.

Speaking Wednesday, Feinberg said the program will cover about 130 to 135 cases of alleged abuse; 76 individuals will receive letters invited them to participate, Cunningham said. That stems from claims of abuse against 40 priests. Most of them are now deceased and all have been removed from ministry, Cunningham said.

New allegations, or newly revealed allegations, will not be covered by the program.

"This program at this stage will not consider brand new allegations either against a sitting priest or a former priest," Feinberg said. "We are limited by the protocol and we are limited by rules, terms and conditions of this program to focus first on 130 or 135 previous complaints of abuse going back about 30 or 40 years. Those are the individuals that we are focuses on. Those are the individuals that are eligible."

Asked if a separate program will be established for new accusers, Cunningham said the diocese will go through the current program and see what other claims emerge.

"We have to see what we've got first," Cunningham said.

Feinberg and Biros will independently determine what claims are eligible and what the compensation should be.

"The church cannot, under the protocol, reject our decision, ask for an appeal (or) in any way try to block our decision," Feinberg said.

"The diocese will accept these determinations without question," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said over the past 15 years, the Diocese of Syracuse addressed this problem aggressively, making sure clergy with a credible allegation of abuse does not remain in the ministry. He acknowledged there have been "missteps" along the way, but said the compensation program is the latest step in an effort to do the right thing.

"As your bishop I would like to apologize again for the pain and suffering caused by some priests in this diocese," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said when it comes to identifying accused abusers, he intends to honor the requests of survivors who come forward.

"Some survivors have asked me to release all of the names and others have asked me not to release the name of their offender," Cunningham said. "Therefore we will confirm a name when a survivor makes it known and in that way I feel I am honoring the requests of both.

The program will be paid for from the Diocese of Syracuse general liability insurance program. Cunningham said funds given by members to fund schools, church renovations and other such programs would not be used.

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