Monday, October 26, 2009

Churchman: Black sex abuse survivors treated fairly

Churchman: Black sex abuse survivors treated fairly

(POSTED: 8/27/09) Reacting to criticism that the Archdiocese of Chicago treated black victims of priest sex abuse worse than whites, the church analyzed financial settlements and found "no overall difference" in payouts between races.

That's according to a strongly worded "background" memorandum recently sent to priests and deacons by a top archdiocesan official, the Rev. John Canary. The stated aim of the memo -- obtained by ChicagoCatholicNews -- is to help clergy "prepare to communicate with . . . parishioners about this and other important issues."

"The Archdiocese has never considered race to be a factor in evaluating clerical misconduct claims, so we never compiled the numbers in this fashion," according to the Aug. 21 memo. "Each claim is evaluated individually and the amounts of the settlements vary based on the abuse that took place. Recently, we did an historical review of all the settlements the Archdiocese has reached with sexual abuse survivors. There is no overall difference between the amounts of settlements paid to African American survivors and those paid to others."

The memo from Canary (pictured above) also indicated "the average amount of the settlements reached with the survivors who identified themselves in the recent media coverage was significantly higher than the average settlement amount paid in all the Archdiocesan clerical misconduct claims."

Phillip Aaron, an attorney for black sex abuse victims featured earlier this month in an NBC5 story on alleged racial disparity, called such talk "smoke and mirrors."

"For a comparable injury, [black abuse victims] were paid less," Aaron said in an interview. "If you look at injury to injuries, they were paid less, and not just that, they were demeaned [when they came forward], they were treated bad -- this isn't me saying this, this is the client."

What's more, Aaron claimed he's being pressured by archdiocesan officials to retract the race-related allegations if he wants to proceed with other abuse cases.

"They say they won't mediate or arbitrate unless I make some sort of public statement that my clients are not discriminated against, and I'm not going to do that," he said.

Top church lawyers referred questions to the archdiocese communications office, which did not respond to calls and emails Wednesday and Thursday. Canary also did not respond to calls and emails from ChicagoCatholicNews.

As such, details on the archdiocese's "historical review" were not available.

Also unclear is whether the memo from Canary -- the archdiocese's vicar general -- represents a new public relations strategy by the archdiocese, which includes 2.3 million Catholics in Cook and Lake counties.

Cardinal Francis George's press secretary Colleen Dolan recently authored a similar "talking points" memo on priest sex abuse. Marked confidential, it was distributed to parishes to help priests answer questions from the press and parishioners -- and it somehow made its way to ABC7 reporter Chuck Goudie.

That document was denounced as "spin" by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, whose leaders have long criticized the Catholic Church for its handling of sex abuse claims.

In the new memo, Canary mentions that the Catholic Church for decades has served the black community in the areas of schools and civil rights, among others.

"From the 1960s onward, the Archdiocese remained committed to African American communities, even when other institutions moved out," he wrote.

Two Chicago-area clergymen confirmed to a reporter that they received the document.

Following is a copy:

August 21, 2009
Dear Father:
As you may know, stories have appeared in the media recently about a group of African American survivors of sexual abuse by priests that charged the Archdiocese of Chicago treated them unfairly and differently from others during settlement negotiations. This charge is completely untrue and we believe you should know the facts surrounding this issue. We have a long-standing practice of reaching out to all victims to resolve their claims in a just and compassionate way. Each claim is handled individually and settlements vary based on the abuse that took place and the injury suffered. Race or ethnicity is never considered in evaluating claims.
We are particularly saddened and troubled by these allegations because the Archdiocese of Chicago has long been an advocate of equal rights, non-discrimination and social justice for all people. It has made Catholic education available especially within the inner city of Chicago and today continues this strong commitment. From the 1960s onward, the Archdiocese remained committed to African American communities, even when other institutions moved out.
We are providing you with this background information as part of our ongoing effort to help you prepare to communicate with your parishioners about this and other important issues. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact me at my office at 312-534-8271 or jcanary@archchicago.org.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Very Reverend John F. Canary
Vicar General
cc: Deacons



Information for Pastors Regarding
The Archdiocese of Chicago and the
African American Community
August 2009
Introduction
You may have seen or heard stories in the media recently that a group of African American survivors of sexual abuse by priests charged that the Archdiocese of Chicago treated them unfairly and differently from others during settlement negotiations. Charges were made that the Archdiocese paid smaller settlement amounts to them because of their race and did not offer counseling and other services that were provided to white survivors.
These allegations are completely untrue. There is no difference in the way the Archdiocese treats African American survivors or in terms of the settlement amounts they receive. The Archdiocese has a long-standing practice of reaching out to all victims to resolve their claims in a prompt, fair and compassionate manner. Each claim is handled individually based on the abuse that took place and injury suffered.
These charges are particularly troubling because the Archdiocese has long been a proponent of equal rights, non-discrimination and social justice for all people regardless of ethnicity, race or culture. There have been many notable and historic occasions where the Archdiocese, working with leaders in the African American community, has taken the lead in equality, civil rights issues and race relations.
This document will focus on the facts about the Archdiocese’s mediation and settlement process and questions that may arise from the recent media coverage.
1


Key Facts
The Archdiocese does not consider race or ethnicity at any time during the negotiation and mediation process for settling sexual abuse claims. Only because these allegations have been made, we conducted a review of all the clerical sexual misconduct claims that have been settled in the Archdiocese’s history. Here are the facts:

• There is absolutely no evidence that the Archdiocese treats survivors of clerical misconduct differently based on race. Each claim is handled individually based on the abuse that took place and injury suffered.


• There is no difference overall in the amounts of settlements paid to African American survivors of sexual abuse by priests. In fact, the average amount of the settlements reached with the survivors who identified themselves in the recent media coverage was significantly higher than the average settlement amount paid in all the Archdiocesan clerical misconduct claims.


• The Archdiocese always offers counseling and other help to survivors as part of its assistance ministry outreach. Often, survivors rely on the advice of their attorneys in determining whether or not to accept counseling and other assistance from the Archdiocese.


• The Archdiocese has a long-standing practice of reaching out to victims to resolve their claims in a prompt, fair and compassionate manner. We have already successfully resolved a number of claims for African American survivors and hope to continue working to resolve the remaining claims.


• The Archdiocese of Chicago has never turned away anyone with a substantiated claim regardless of when the abuse happened.


• The Archdiocese has long been a proponent of equal rights, non-discrimination and social justice for all people regardless of ethnicity, race or culture.


• The Archdiocese has a long and sustained commitment to African American communities, particularly through its investment in Catholic education and social programs. For example, over the past seven years, the Archdiocese has averaged $17 million per year in grants to schools and parishes that serve African American communities.

2


Office of Assistance Ministry
The Office of Assistance Ministry works under the umbrella of the Archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. The Office of Assistance Ministry has one mission: to make sure survivors are treated with sensitivity, assisted with compassion and accompanied on their healing journey by caring guidance and support. From the moment someone comes forward, the services of the Office of Assistance Ministry are always offered to survivors of sexual abuse by priests, including:

• Providing therapeutic and spiritual counseling

• Accompanying survivors when they report sexual abuse experiences to church personnel

• Arranging meetings with Cardinal George, if requested

• Providing financial support to survivors for clinical services

• Providing consultation and clinical resources for parish communities affected by abuse.

Since its inception in 1992, the Office of Assistance Ministry has provided the following services to those in need:

• Reached out consistently to those affected by clerical sexual abuse through newspapers, radio, television and the Archdiocesan Web site

• Covered the cost of individual counseling for more than 230 survivors of sexual abuse and their families, totaling more than $2 million

• Sponsored eight ongoing support groups for survivors of sexual abuse

• Launched an educational group for family members of survivors of clerical sexual abuse

• Organized three healing retreats for 40 survivors of clerical sexual abuse

• Helped coordinate 32 personal meetings between survivors and Cardinal George.

3


FAQ
Does the Archdiocese of Chicago pay smaller settlements for claims from African Americans who are survivors of sexual abuse by priests?
Absolutely not. Each claim is evaluated individually based on the abuse that took place and the injury suffered. Race is never considered in evaluating claims and there is no difference in the amounts paid to African American survivors.
What is the average settlement for victims that are African American compared to victims that are white?
The Archdiocese has never considered race to be a factor in evaluating clerical misconduct claims, so we never compiled the numbers in this fashion. Each claim is evaluated individually and the amounts of the settlements vary based on the abuse that took place. Recently, we did an historical review of all the settlements the Archdiocese has reached with sexual abuse survivors. There is no overall difference between the amounts of settlements paid to African American survivors and those paid to others.
Is it true that African American survivors are not offered counseling and other services that were provided to other survivors?
Absolutely not. The Archdiocese always offers counseling and other help to survivors from the moment they come forward. Often, survivors rely on the advice of their attorneys in determining whether or not to accept counseling and other assistance from the Archdiocese.
Has a lawsuit been filed by this group of survivors charging the Archdiocese with discrimination?
Although the recent media coverage claimed that a lawsuit would be filed, as of now no lawsuit has been filed.

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