What Do You Need to Know About the Diocese of Richmond’s Independent Reconciliation Program (IRP)?
The Catholic Diocese of Richmond has started a voluntary compensation fund for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The fund, referred to as the Independent Reconciliation Program (IRP), is being administered by a third party settlement administrator, BrownGreer PLC. The program is now open for registration and participation.
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 survivors’ claims, we have noticed that our clients, all of whom are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, ask us similar questions about the Independent Reconciliation Programs. We have included some of those questions – and the answers – for you now.
Question 1: What is the Independent Reconciliation Program (IRP)?
The Independent Reconciliation Program (IRP) is a program created by the Catholic Bishop of Richmond (Virginia). It is funded by the diocese and, more than likely, its insurance companies.
It is a voluntary program that allows survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clergy members to participate in a simpler, more streamlined process of resolving their cases than traditional litigation (filing a lawsuit in court). It often results in compensation being paid to survivors in a matter of a few months.
Question: Who can file a claim in the Diocese of Richmond IRP?
The program is open to anyone who was sexually abused by a priest or deacon assigned to a diocesan parish, grammar school, or other program, while the victim was under the age of 18. The IRP is not currently open to anyone who was abused a nun or a lay employee of the Diocese of Richmond.
Question: What is a “claims packet?”
The claims packet is a 6 to 10 page form generated by the administrator’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 IRP administrators, for various reasons – and that is exactly why you should consult with an attorney before you try to do anything on your own.
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 IRP 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: I think I am eligible for the IRP. What should I do?
The IRP does have an open registration period during which anyone who thinks they are eligible to participate in the IRP can request to do so. During this very strict – and brief – registration period, the IRP administrators will communicate with the Diocese of Richmond 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.
Question: Will anyone find out that I filed an IRP claim?
The program is confidential in the sense that neither the fund administrators nor the diocese 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 in reports as to the total amount of settlements paid to the group in aggregate. No survivors’ names or the amounts an individual was paid will be made public.
IRP 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 Richmond myself to get the IRP process moving?
Attorneys and advocates alike all strongly discourage survivors from contacting anyone at the Diocese of Richmond themselves, particularly if they have not spoken with an experienced lawyer yet. The Diocese has highly trained staff and experienced lawyers working to defend the Diocese. 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 a team with 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 IRP 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 IRP a class action settlement fund?
The IRP is not a class action settlement fund – each claim will be evaluated individually 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 the administrators.
Question: If I file an IRP claims packet, does that mean I can never sue the Diocese of Richmond?
No. You do not waive any legal options by merely filing a claim with the IRP.
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 IRP is the only option for them to get some sense of acknowledgement and accountability by the Diocese of Richmond.
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 Virginia 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 the IRP adminstrators.
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 Richmond and throughout the United States. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest or deacon in Richmond, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Richmond 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.
Call us at 888-283-9922 or send an email to [email protected] to discuss your options today.