The three Catholic dioceses of Colorado, including the Diocese of Pueblo, have started a voluntary compensation for survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The program, sometimes called the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) or something similar, is being administered by Washington D.C.-based attorney Ken Feinberg and his business manager, Camille Biros. The two have administered similar diocesan settlement funds nationwide over the past two years. The Colorado fund is expected to launch in October 2019, according to our information.
Our attorneys have handled hundreds of claims in similar funds nationally since the creation of the first such fund for victims in the Archdiocese of New York.
In the thousands of hours that we have spent working on the claims, we have noticed that our clients, all of whom are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, often ask us similar questions about the independent compensation programs. We have included some of those questions – and the answers – for you now.
For more information on the Archdiocese of Denver program, click here.
For more information on the Diocese of Colorado Springs, click here.
Question 1: What is the Independent Compensation Program (IRRP)?
The Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) is a program created by the three Colorado Catholic dioceses: the Diocese of Pueblo, Diocese of Colorado Springs, and Archdiocese of Denver. It is funded by the dioceses and, in most cases, their insurance companies.
It is a voluntary program that allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clergymembers to participate in a simpler, more streamlined process of resolving their cases than traditional litigation (filing a lawsuit in court). In often results in compensation being paid to survivors in a period of a few months.
Question: Who can file a claim in the Colorado IRRP?
The program is open to anyone who was sexually abused by diocesan clergy (like a priest or a deacon) while the victim was under the age of 18. The IRRP is not currently open to anyone sexually abused by members of a religious order or anyone who was a lay employee of the Diocese of Pueblo. If you are not sure if the assailant was a diocesan priest or a member of a religious order (e.g., Jesuits, Franciscans, Salesians, any type of nun), we have various ways of obtaining that information.
Even if your abuser was a member of a religious order, or if he/she was a lay employee of the diocese, like a teacher, we encourage you to call us today about your options. In some cases, the programs have expanded into a new phase for those kinds of claims after the initial wave of cases are resolved.
Question: I received the lengthy claims packet in the mail – what do I do now?
If you have received a packet, we strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney before you attempt to submit the packet yourself. The questions can seem daunting and confusing. An experienced attorney can mean the difference between a very small offer from the fund and a much bigger one. People who file claims are not typically interviewed by the IRRP administrators so the claims packet is the one chance survivors have to tell their entire story from start to the present, and even the future, particularly if therapy or counseling will be needed in the future.
Our attorneys have spent thousands of hours preparing compensation program claims packets for funds across the country. We have a unique understanding of how to assemble supporting documents and present your case in a manner that gives the claims administrators the best and most complete information necessary to evaluate your claim.
Question: What is a “claims packet?”
The claims packet is a 6 to 10 page form generated by Mr. Feinberg’s office. The length – and the questions asked – vary by diocese. Typically the packet asks for some basic information about you and your background. Of course, it also requests information about your sexual abuse experience and how it has affected you. It is these two areas that are the most important to the IRRP administrators, for various reasons – and that is exactly why you should consult with an attorney before you try to do anything on your own.
Question: I didn’t get a claims packet in the mail but I think I am eligible for the IRRP. What should I do?
The IRRP does have an open registration period during which anyone who thinks they are eligible to participate in the IRRP can request to do so. During this very strict – and brief – registration period, the IRRP administrators will communicate with the Diocese of Pueblo to verify some preliminary information regarding the priest’s status with the Diocese and his assignment at the time of the abuse. This is generally a routine review of basic facts that results in a claims packet being sent to our office.
All claims must be registered with the IRRP by November 30, 2019, so it is critically important that you contact us soon to discuss your options.
Question: I told another priest about my sexual abuse 25 years ago. I will get a claims packet from the IRRP eventually, right?
The claims packets were sent to people that the dioceses each define as “people who made a prior report.” This is a very particular term of art that is very strictly defined by the Diocese of Pueblo and its attorneys. Not every report is a “report” under the rules that the Diocese and its partner dioceses wrote for the IRRP. For example, a verbal report to a parish pastor 20 years ago is not a “prior report” in the IRRP.
In our experience, the lists of prior reports provided by each diocese are woefully incomplete. Unless your claim was investigated by the Diocese’s internal review board, which typically takes several months and involves you giving a sworn, written statement, it is safe to assume that your name may not be on the list provided by the Diocese of Pueblo.
Therefore, even if you think you made a prior report of abuse, we urge you to contact us immediately to make sure that your claim is registered in a timely manner and that a claims packet is generated for you. If you do not act before the registration deadline (once it has been set), you may lose your chance to participate in the settlement fund forever.
Question: Will anyone find out that I filed an IRRP claim?
The program is confidential in the sense that neither the fund administrators nor the dioceses will disclose any information publicly about those who participate in the program or their sexual abuse experiences. The amounts paid to survivors are never made public, except as a total amount of settlements paid to the group as a whole.
IRRP Claimants, on the other hand, are not required to maintain such confidentiality and can share their involvement with as many – or as few – people as they would like.
Question: Should I contact the Diocese of Pueblo myself to get the IRRP process moving?
Attorneys and advocates alike all strongly discourage survivors from contacting anyone at the Diocese of Pueblo themselves, particularly if they have not spoken with an experienced lawyer yet. The Diocese has highly trained staff and experienced lawyers to defend itself. Even the nicest person working at the Diocese is still being paid by the Diocese and working for the benefit of the Diocese. You should have just as much experience and tenacity working on your behalf too.
If you elect to retain our law firm, we will handle all of the communications with the IRRP administrators, with the Diocese and its attorneys, and, to the extent it is required, with law enforcement. You will not have to tell your story over and over again to strangers. Your contact will be almost exclusively with the attorney handling your case. This is a road that we know well and we know how to protect you and your interests.
Question: Is the IRRP a class action settlement fund?
The IRCP is not a class action settlement fund – each claim will be evaluated individual and each claimant will receive an individual response from the administrators. Each claim is on its own timetable to a certain extent. Settlement amounts in these funds vary widely, depending on various factors like the severity of the sexual abuse and its effects on the survivors. That is why having an experienced attorney is critical – we know what information is going to be important to Mr. Feinberg and his team.
Question: If I file an IRRP claims packet, does that mean I can never sue the Diocese?
No. You do not waive any legal options by merely filing a claim with the IRRP.
In some cases, you may have options beyond filing a claim – you may be able to file a lawsuit in court against the Diocese. For the overwhelming number of claimants, the statute of limitations has long expired and, as of today, the IRCP is the only option for them to get some sense of acknowledgement and accountability by the Diocese of Pueblo.
However, laws are being enacted in many states that change the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving child sexual abuse. In some cases, the laws have created “windows” during which anyone who was sexually abused can file a lawsuit – even if their statute of limitations has already passed. It is unclear if Colorado lawmakers will take similar steps. Therefore, it is very important that you have an experienced attorney guide you through the process so that you can make the best decisions for you and your family if and when you receive an offer to settle from Mr. Feinberg.
CONTACT US TODAY.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Pueblo and throughout Colorado. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Colorado, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Pueblo now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims. There may also be a major change in the statute of limitations that will open a window for survivors to file lawsuits regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.