Victims advocate demands transparency as Camden Diocese suspends compensation fund

Sacred Heart Church in Camden, N.J.

Church in Camden, N.J. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Diocese of Camden’s decision to suspend its participation in New Jersey’s compensation fund for victims of clergy sexual abuse is being met with skepticism from a victims advocate.

In an announcement late Friday, the diocese cited a “precipitous decline in revenue” during the COVID-19 pandemic and said it is fast approaching a point where it will not be able to borrow the funds necessary to pay awards made by the program.

Mark Crawford, leader of the New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it’s disingenuous for the diocese “to turn around and use COVID as an excuse not to offer any kind of compensation at this time, when in fact bishop appeals are still raising funds,” Crawford said. “They have many assets” that could be sold to pay for awards to victims, he added.

The diocese said awards already made by the Independent Victim Compensation Program (IVCP), which was formed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in New Jersey last February, will be paid, and that they are instituting a moratorium on future determinations or awards.

“These steps are necessary in order to maintain the critical programs that the Diocese of Camden continues to provide for the communities it serves which, now more than ever, are so essential,” the diocese said in a news release.

While Crawford does not doubt the coronavirus pandemic has had a negative effect, he says the church as an entity has “sufficient assets” and “has never been open and honest” about them. He adds that the church should disclose its financials and its assets.

“If you want to go this route and say you don’t have it, then bear the facts out,” he said. “They should be declaring what they have.”

 A spokesperson for the diocese declined to comment further, saying only that it is “committed to providing compensation to victims of clergy sex abuse, a commitment that spans three decades, when we are again able to do so.”

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