Distributing the Church Abuse Settlement How will attorneys for the victims of clergy abuse in Los Angeles distribute the $660 million settlement? An expert discusses the difficulties inherent in distributing a settlement to victims of a tragedy.
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Distributing the Church Abuse Settlement

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Distributing the Church Abuse Settlement


Distributing the Church Abuse Settlement

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.


And I'm Noah Adams.

A Vatican spokesman said today the settlement between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and victims of clergy abuse should allow all sides to close a painful chapter and look forward. The settlement money - $660 million - would mean an average payment of $1.3 million, to more than 500 plaintiffs; some, of course, would get less, some would get more. And how is that money to be paid out? Who puts a dollar figure on pain, anguish, and possible lifelong psychological trauma?

Kenneth Feinberg has done just that, most notably to distribute the government fund for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. Mr. Feinberg joins us now from our Washington studios. Welcome, sir.

Mr. KENNETH FEINBERG (Attorney): Thank you.

ADAMS: We're turning to you because you're outside but have experience. Hypothetically, how would you start in a situation like this in Los Angeles?

Mr. FEINBERG: Well, I think what you try and do is look at some objective criteria: how long the abuse took place, the nature of that abuse, corroboration of that abuse, and you try as best you can to prioritize groups of claimants and try and set up some sort of compensation matrix that would pay out depending, on verification of these criteria.

ADAMS: In a way you have to - I imagine you have to steel your heart and sit there with a paper and pencil and say, well, rape at a certain age, that is worth this much money as opposed to fondling?

Mr. FEINBERG: I think that's right, and corroboration of that abuse. Saying it doesn't necessarily confirm it, and I think you have to develop some sort of plan for evaluating each claim's credibility.

ADAMS: But indeed, do you say that one encounter is worth so much, a continuing series of encounters with a priest would be now worth so much money? Do you do that?

Mr. FEINBERG: You may, or you may look at it in another way. You may, if you're drafting the plan, may say one encounter is every bit as harsh and horrible and psychologically scarring as 10 encounters. You might instead look at the subsequent development of that victim's life over a lifetime and how much they have suffered and what they have gone through. There are various ways you can try and establish ground rules for allocating the proceeds, none of which can really cope with the reality that these victims have suffered.

ADAMS: Back when you were working in the New York situation, with the World Trade Center, with the families who were grieving and then lost people there; can you give us an example of when you had to put a dollar amount on something as opposed to something else, that really bothered you?

Mr. FEINBERG: Yes. The very first family that I met with - a woman came to see me and said, Mr. Feinberg, I understand that you're offering me $1 million for the death of my husband, a fireman at the World Trade Center. I want you to know that although a million dollars is a lot of money, I want more than a million dollars, and most importantly, I want it in the next 30 days.

And I looked at her and said, ma'am, I'm sorry about what happened, but a million dollars is a lot of money. We have to verify matters and it may take more than a month.

And she looked at me and said, Mr. Feinberg, you don't understand. I lost my husband and he left me with two children and I have terminal cancer. I only have eight weeks to live. My husband was going to survive me and take care of our two little ones. Now they're going to be orphans. And I want that money and I needed it fast to set up a fund for my children.

And we accelerated the payments, and seven weeks later we went to her funeral.

Now, nobody could have made that up. You cannot in setting up programs like this anticipate the variations that arise from the horror and the tragedy.

ADAMS: Kenneth Feinberg worked to distribute the financial settlement for victims of 9/11. He's now taking on a pro bono basis the fund for the victims of the shootings of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Thank you, Mr. Feinberg.

Mr. FEINBERG: Thank you very much.

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