Albany diocese quietly paid man who claimed abuse

More than $225,000 given last year at scandal's peak

January 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., quietly paid more than $225,000 last year to a man who said he was a sexual abuse victim and who was pressing further allegations that priests from the diocese had molested him when he was a boy.

The man and the diocese disagree on whether the money was intended to end his claims and keep him quiet, or was the charitable work of a church assisting a member in need.

The payments, made when the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church was at its height and when many were calling for greater openness in church finances, were not part of a formal legal settlement, and they began weeks after Hubbard announced an end to confidential settlements. He had said such settlements not only prevented victims from speaking freely about their experiences, but also created the appearance that the church was covering up the problem of clerical abuse.

In 1994, the diocese paid the man $150,000 in a confidential legal settlement after he said he was sexually abused by a diocesan priest. Hubbard acknowledged that abuse in letters of apology to the victim last year.

Among payments last year was a check for $150,000 from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany that was meant to pay for a house, according to a review of the checks and other documents as well as interviews with diocesan officials. An earlier payment, for $75,000, was for a mobile home when the man was about to be evicted.

The 39-year-old man, who agreed to be interviewed only on the condition of anonymity, said he regards the payments as part of an effort to keep him silent, an effort that he said included six months of therapy with a church-affiliated social worker and meetings with Hubbard.

The man said he was angry that the bishop did not do enough to identify and punish the other priests he said had abused him. He said he felt betrayed by a bishop who once called him a friend.

Hubbard, prominent in the effort by U.S. bishops to respond to the sexual abuse scandal, would not agree to be interviewed about the payments. He said in a statement it would be improper to discuss assistance given to victims, and that to do so could harm them further.

The Rev. Kenneth Doyle, a spokesman for the diocese, said the victim's claim that the bishop had been trying to ensure his silence was "absolutely untrue." He said the bishop's general goal was to "try and comfort the victim and get any immediate help for the victim and provide any assistance to make life more livable and begin the path toward healing."

For much of the last year, as reports emerged concerning the church's long and costly history of making secret legal settlements with victims of abuse, many prominent Catholics have been pushing for bishops across the country to disclose exactly how they have spent their money, much of which has been raised from parishioners and philanthropists. That effort has failed to compel the country's 194 dioceses to produce a full audit of their finances.

The Diocese of Albany acknowledged in June that it had paid far more in legal settlements of abuse cases than it had publicly acknowledged. The payouts amounted to $2.3 million rather than "hundreds of thousands," it disclosed.

In the latest instance, Doyle, the diocesan spokesman, said that the payments did not constitute a confidential settlement and that the victim was not barred from talking about them. He said the diocese did not disclose the assistance because it would have been improper to do so.

When told of the victim's charges that the payments were meant to keep him silent, he said the money was paid "because of an unusually needful situation and the severity of the injuries sustained."

Diocesan officials said the payments were covered by the diocese's self-insurance fund. That insurance is financed by donations from parishioners and is controlled by the bishop.

The story of the victim's dealings with the diocese last spring and summer offers a remarkable window onto how one bishop, with the national scandal growing almost daily, dealt with an abused victim who was pressing other charges.

According to an examination of diocesan documents, psychological reports and two days of interviews with the victim, the diocese first appeared to be reaching out to him with considerable emotional and financial support. The victim said his emotions alternated from a yearning for help to rage at his abuser and the church. As his frustration grew, the diocese pulled back.

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