After the archdiocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program was announced last week, Cardinal Dolan answered questions about how the program would be carried out and the response he has received in the days since its inception.
Question: What inspired you to launch this reconciliation and compensation program?
Cardinal: Several things. First and foremost, it’s been on my mind to do something like this ever since I arrived in New York over seven years ago. I had done it in Milwaukee when I was archbishop there. Periodically we’d discuss it internally, but the timing never seemed right. There was always something more immediate to attend to, particularly our parishes and schools. But Pope Francis’ example and his words really challenged me. Not too long ago he was talking to a group of bishops about this Year of Mercy, and he encouraged them to do something daring to reach out to a group who felt hurt and alienated from the Church. And I said to myself, “I know who that is in New York…the victim-survivors of abuse.” And so we got to work putting the IRCP together.
Question: You mentioned you had a similar program when you were Archbishop of Milwaukee. Was that experience helpful to you?
Cardinal: That was helpful, but so was the experience of many of my brother bishops who have done similar outreach. I’m hardly prophetic here. I think of the Diocese of Albany, for example, which ran a reconciliation program several years ago. Bishop Hubbard and Bishop Scharfenberger have both expressed their belief that they were able to bring some good measure of healing and reconciliation to victim-survivors in that diocese. I consulted with many others, some of whom had compensation programs, but they all shared a common goal—to find every way that we can express our sorrow to those who hurting, and try to heal those wounds. That’s universal. Every bishop in this state is trying his best to be pastoral and bring resolution.
Question: What reaction have you been getting?
Cardinal: Very positive. I’ve been surprised—pleasantly so—that so many people are supporting this initiative. Last Thursday, after making the announcement, I attended a dinner of the Business Council of Westchester, many of whom are executives from some of the top Fortune 500 companies, and was surprised when they gave me a big round of applause when the evening’s M.C. mentioned the reconciliation program during my introduction. I had kind of worried that they might say, “What in the heck is Dolan doing this for?” but they were very encouraging. Most uplifting are the messages of support that have already come in from victim-survivors.
Question: Did any of the business leaders offer any advice on how to raise the money to pay off the compensation awards?
Cardinal: You know, of course, that we have a stellar group of professional men and women who make up the Archdiocesan Finance Council, and they gave me a good grilling, and some excellent advice, when I briefed them on the IRCP a couple weeks or so before the announcement. Their main concern, for obvious reasons, was to make sure that nothing that we did in the IRCP would damage our charitable works, schools, parishes, health care, or any of our ministries, use funds strictly designated for these good works, nor compromise the financial stability of the archdiocese. They will keep a very close eye on me going forward, and I’m glad they will.
Look, this isn’t going to be easy. Yes, we will take out a long-term loan, which we will pay back gradually. We, make that I, am going to have to be an even more careful steward of the donations and gifts that people give to the Church. We will continue to look for ways to save. We will have to look at other archdiocesan sources of income, like the modest investments we have, to find ways to pay for this. But it is meant to be sacrificial, an act of reparation, which is part of our Catholic spirituality.
Question: Will this change the Church’s position on the so-called “look back” legislation in Albany?
Cardinal: The Church’s position is very clear. While we support legislation that increases the statute of limitations prospectively, strengthens reporting laws, mandates background checks, institutes safe-environment training—we believe in these things because, guess what? We’re already doing them, and they’re working—we adamantly oppose “look back” as it compromises protection of the innocent, unfairly targets the Church, and hardly punishes those who are guilty, but hurts all those who are served by the Church.
Look, I can’t wait around wondering what Albany is going to do or not going to do. If I did, I’d never accomplish anything! But, regardless of what happens in the state Legislature, I believe that the IRCP is the right thing to do, and now is the right time to do it.
Question: What’s been the reaction of the priests?
Cardinal: It’s been good. Like everyone in the Church, they want to find a way to help ease the pain of those who are hurting, and they think this could be a good way to do that. Priests have been terribly stung by the abuse scandal, and very much want this resolved.
But, you have to understand, that they have been hurt by the misdeeds of a tiny percentage of our clergy. For the past 15 years, they have felt like they’ve got a target on their backs, and I know that sense of unease has only intensified because we’ve announced that victim-survivors can get compensation. They think to themselves, “I know I’ve never done anything wrong…but will somebody from a parish I served in 20 or 30 years ago accuse me hoping that they can get some big bucks from the Church?” It’s a legitimate concern. I feel it too. And I know they believe that once their name is mentioned in an allegation, even if they are later completely exonerated, they will always be “tainted.”
We will continue our policy requiring all persons bringing an allegation against a priest or deacon to report it to the District Attorney, as well as to the archdiocese so that it can be investigated by outside professionals, many of whom are former FBI members, and examined by our lay review board. That fact usually discourages false allegations. We must and we will respect the due process rights of our clergy, and if any priest is the subject of a false allegation, we will help him clear his name in any way that we can, including providing legal assistance for him, and prosecuting the defamer.
Question: How long will the program run?
Cardinal: Ken Feinberg and Camille Biros, the program administrators, tell me they estimate about four months for phase I, which are the cases we know about, and phase II about eight months, which will be for new claims. But we will have to wait and see how many people apply.