In Abuse Scandal, Parishioners Are Paying for It
Albany-- Diocese Says $230,000 Has Gone to Fees, Counseling in Past Year

By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
June 14, 2003

Parishioners in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany helped pay an estimated $230,000 during the past year in costs stemming from sexual abuse scandal, the church said this week.

The costs -- paid by the diocese's self-insurance fund, made up of premiums paid by parishes -- covered legal fees as well as counseling and other assistance for victims between June 2002 and May 31, church officials said.

None of this year's expenses were taken from the recent capital campaign or the Bishop's Appeal, the annual fund-raising, church officials said.

Costs related to the sexual abuse scandal are likely to continue in the coming year. The accounting report will likely be greeted with mixed feelings by many of the more than 400,000 Catholics in the 14-county diocese, said Andy Grebe of Clifton Park, spokesman for the local Voice of the Faithful chapter of the nationwide group created in the wake of the scandal.

"I would really hope that people see it as a positive thing the diocese is stepping up and starting to disclose some of that information," Grebe said. "This is one of the things a lot of people are looking for, just some accounting of how much we are talking about."

But, Grebe said, "There is going to be some frustration that it is coming right from the collection plate."

The diocese reported the $230,000 figure for the first time in a Letter to Catholics from Bishop Howard Hubbard published in the current issue of the Evangelist, the diocese's weekly newspaper.

"I am fully aware of the anger, pain and loss of confidence the scandal has created in the minds and hearts of many people," Hubbard said in his letter after recounting efforts the diocese has made to address sexual abuse concerns during the past year.

"For this, too, I apologize and hope that our ongoing efforts, with God's help, will be a step toward healing and the restoration of trust, and, and most especially, toward the protection of our children and young people," the bishop said.

Several attorneys who represent alleged victims of sexual abuse say they are waiting for church attorneys to offer settlement payments.

If they cannot reach an agreement, the victims' attorneys said, they may file lawsuits in state court.

The costs includes fees related to fighting four lawsuits filed during the past year. The also cover the counseling and medication promised by the diocese for any victims who come forward with complaints, and a prevention program the diocese has implemented to help employees recognize the warning signs of sexual abuse, the letter said.

During the past year, the diocese also has hired two new full-time employees, a retired State Police investigator, Tom Martin, who looks into complaints from victims; and Teresa Rodrigues, a victims assistance coordinator.

The $230,000 is in addition to $2.5 million the diocese previously acknowledged paying to victims during the past 30 years.

The diocese liability insurance policy, which covers everything from a slip-and-fall to a sexual abuse settlement, does not kick in until an individual payment exceeds $250,000.

Like many large institutions, the diocese has found it is cheaper to manage the money themselves in a self-insurance fund, pooling payments from church parishes, rather than pay premiums to insurance companies for a broader policy.

Coverage for costs beyond $250,000 protects the diocese only against large claims like a catastrophic fire or a massive liability claim.


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