San Diego

Local Group Cautions Clergy Sex Abuse Victims to Not Rush Into Settlements With Church

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego created a new compensation fund for victims of clergy sexual abuse, and several victims are speaking out against it.

On Tuesday, the Diocese of San Diego joined five other California dioceses with a compensation fund program for victims abused by clergy members.

“Do you know what it’s like to be terrorized, tormented, abused and knowing that you can do nothing about it?” said one victim named Dede.

On Thursday, four victims shared how they were abused by their priest when they were children.

“You’re nine years old -- but you have to be a horrible person, otherwise, why would they do it?” Dede said to a room full of media.

The victims came together through attorney Irwin Zalkin and the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, to speak against the new victim compensation fund.

Zalkin has represented more than 100 victims of childhood sexual abuse involving clergy members.

“What happened to me and others is a crime and should be treated as a crime,” said Bill, a victim of abuse.

Bill said he was first abused by his neighbor and considers himself collateral damage when he confided this with his priest.

He said after sharing his abuse, the priest told him his neighbor had done nothing wrong and then began to abuse him.

“What's going to stop the abuse is mandatory reporting. What's going to stop the abuse is a statute of limitations extension. What's going to stop the abuse is opening up a window, so older people who didn't come forward because of shame, because of feeling a failure that somehow they were to blame,” Bill said.

Esther Hatfield Miller, a member of SNAP, said the compensation fund will not work because survivors will not get their day in court nor be able to expose wrongdoings of coverups or enforce accountability.

“A compensation fund like this does not reform statues of limitations. We need to reform those ancient laws,” Miller said.

Aida Bustos with the Diocese of San Diego said victims can decide to accept the compensation and seek other legal remedies.

“The program is totally voluntarily and information is kept confidential, but victims can speak out about it,” said Bustos. “They are not at all legally bound to stay quiet.”

Some victims told NBC 7 that it isn’t about the money but seeking justice.

“This is much more than offering compensation. It’s a way to acknowledge we understand the pain endured and take responsibility of it,” said Bustos.

In the past two decades, Catholic dioceses in California have worked to provide assistance to abuse survivors by offering counseling and other support. During this time, the dioceses paid close to $1.5 billion to thousands of survivors in an effort to acknowledge responsibility for the grave offenses committed by priests and to compensate victims for their pain and suffering.

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