A compensation fund for New Jersey victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church will begin accepting claims on Saturday.
The first-of-its-kind fund in the Garden State will offer financial settlements to survivors of clergy sex abuse and comes amid an investigation by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal into possible sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church.
“Some survivors are really intimidated by a court proceeding process. You have to really think about the traumatic impact this sort of institutional abuse has had on someone,” said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“On the other hand, not all survivors will want to go back to the institution that caused them harm,” she added.
The compensation fund opens just a few weeks after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law expanding the state’s civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse and giving survivors who were previously time-barred from suing two years to file a claim in court.
A joint venture of the five Roman Catholic dioceses in the state — Newark, Paterson, Metuchen, Trenton, and Camden — the fund will be overseen by attorneys Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros. The pair also ran similar compensation programs for victims of clergy sexual abuse in New York and Pennsylvania as well as a victims fund for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
People who were abused by a diocesan priest will be eligible for settlements. However, survivors victimized at the hands of nuns and priests of religious orders may not be permitted. Financial settlements through the fund would require victims to agree to not file a lawsuit against the church, but it would not mandate that they keep quiet about the details of their abuse.
Catholic officials have said the compensation fund is meant to be a sign of good faith and help victims heal.
But Mark Crawford, who runs the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), suggested the fund actually allows the church to avoid accountability for years of abuse by clergy members by keeping the cases out of open court.
“This is just a way in which the institutional church can kind of make these things go away,” Crawford said. “They want to pay these victims off and they get to keep their secrets.”