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Richmond Diocese to pay millions to victims of abuse

Advocates say the effort falls short
Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 11:46 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In Virginia, millions of dollars are headed to victims of sexual abuse by priests. The Catholic Diocese of Richmond announced it would be making the payments, as it ends a victim reconciliation program.

51 people who were sexually abused as children by priests were compensated. Survivors received $6.3 million, distributed by an independent administrator.

The program was announced in February, roughly a year after allegations against dozens of priests with ties to the diocese were made public. Six served in our region, including in Bedford, Blacksburg, and Roanoke.

In a statement released Thursday, Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout said the program is “a tangible sign, a practical expression to bring about healing for victim survivors.”

“I don’t think it’s enough,” said Becky Ianni.

Ianni is an abuse survivor from Alexandria, and one of the 51 who received compensation. She says the scars of abuse lingered for years.

“I had to pay out of pocket for therapy, for over eight years going twice a week. I had to quit my job for a while because I was having a series of panic attacks. I had a lot of medical issues.”

Ianni turned that pain into advocacy, becoming a leader of SNAP, or the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, in the commonwealth.

She says this latest step to help victims like her, the reconciliation program, falls short.

“It didn’t really give any information. It was basically saying 'look what we did,” she said.

Ianni points to a lack of transparency in the diocese’s report on the program. It notes that out of 68 claims of abuse initiated, only 51 received compensation. No specific reasons are given for why claims were denied.

She also says victims weren’t given enough time to come forward.

“It was a very short window," said Ianni. "They announced it on February 17th. It closed on April 3rd, and this was in the middle of the coronavirus.”

She says this program can’t be the end for the church. This abuse happened over years, and healing will likely take just as long.

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