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Reparations After Clergy Abuse Puts A Price On Trauma, Victims Say

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

After last year's grand jury report, the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania began paying reparations to victims of priest sexual abuse. So far, hundreds of people have received compensation, totaling more than $50 million. From our member station WHYY, Laura Benshoff reports that some survivors struggle with the idea that the church is putting a price on their trauma.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Growing up, John Quinn bounced between his family's home and Catholic orphanages all around Philadelphia.

JOHN QUINN: I ended up in St. John's, St. Joe's, St. Mary's, St. Francis and St. Michael's and a foster home.

BENSHOFF: Quinn is now 67 years old and retired. He lives in Arkansas with his fourth wife, who works at a chicken processing plant. They have two teenage sons. When he was their age, he says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in Philadelphia.

QUINN: I get stressed. I get depressed. I get what-ifs - what if it didn't happen this way? Where would I be?

BENSHOFF: Earlier this year, he applied to the archdiocese victim compensation fund. When they offered him a quarter-million dollars, he took it to stabilize his family's finances.

QUINN: Paid $50,000 in credit card bills first. You know, I got my son braces, got my other son a car.

BENSHOFF: Some of the money is also going towards a house in Mexico, where his wife is from. He pulls out his phone to show me a picture.

QUINN: It's almost finished.

BENSHOFF: Oh, I love the purple.

QUINN: That's my favorite color.

BENSHOFF: In the last year, more than 200 people have done what Quinn did - they went before an independent panel that weighs claims of sexual abuse by priests. The panel then decides how much to pay victims from a compensation fund. Altogether, Pennsylvania dioceses have paid out tens of millions of dollars this way, with dozens of claims still pending. Retired Judge Lawrence Stengel oversees the Philadelphia archdiocese compensation program and says while no amount of money is enough...

LAWRENCE STENGEL: I think the fact that 98% of the people receiving offers who are accepting them is pretty strong evidence that those are adequate and fair.

BENSHOFF: Stengel says a lot of people who came forward were previously unknown victims. He says the fact that the program promises confidentiality has helped people afraid to go public with their claims. But not everyone who went through the reparations process was happy with it.

DONALD ASBEE: The compensation was, I felt, inadequate. But the most important thing was it just didn't feel like they were disclosing what really was going on.

BENSHOFF: Donald Asbee was an altar boy in central Pennsylvania in the 1960s, when he says two priests sexually abused him. Earlier this year, the Diocese of Harrisburg offered him nearly $177,000 in compensation, but he turned it down. He decided to try suing the church. Asbee says he wants a public process where church officials have to answer questions.

ASBEE: I feel like at this point, I've got nothing to lose. I want to have my day in court. I want this out.

BENSHOFF: He can afford to wait and see if he'll get the kind of justice he wants from a jury trial. For NPR News, I'm Laura Benshoff in Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAUSCHKA'S "HIKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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