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Church Aid To Abuse Victims Varied

While Church Gave One Man Hefty Cash Payments, Another Got Bus Passes And A $200 Monthly Food Stipend

Jan 23, 2003 | Albany Times Union Two men who were sexually abused by the same priest decades ago both recall approaching the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese at separate times last year. Both men were mired in poverty and struggling with severe emotional problems. Both men were seeking help.

But the two men, in recent interviews with the Times Union, told vastly different stories about how their appeals for assistance were handled.

The comparison of their cases underscores the remarkable attention and money showered on one victim in particular, a man who said the church and Bishop Howard Hubbard welcomed him with open arms last spring but later turned on him when he pressed them to identify other priests who he said had abused him.

The men quietly contacted the church at the peak of public outcry over the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal between April and June, both recalling serial abuse by the Rev. David Bentley when they lived at a home for children in the 1970s. Bentley was removed from his post at a church in New Mexico and from active ministry in April.

One of the victims, a 40-year-old illiterate and unemployed carpenter with tattoos covering his arms, said Wednesday that he went to the diocese in June in dire straits.

"What I was getting on food stamps wasn't lasting me," the man said. He was offered church counseling and declined, preferring to stay with his longtime, Medicaid-funded therapist, he said. He was directed to Catholic Charities, given free bus passes and promised $200 a month in vouchers for groceries at Price Chopper, he said.

The other man, a married father who said he suffers from suicidal thoughts, told the church in April that he had been abused by other Albany priests in addition to Bentley, and he wanted to know their names and status within the church. The man, now 39, had dozens of face-to-face meetings with Hubbard and later was given $225,000 in untraceable payments using checks without the church's name that the church describes as "assistance."

Church officials acknowledge that they entered into separate secret settlement agreements with both men in the early 1990s, which involved confidentiality agreements that the two men have since violated. But the church declined to discuss why these men recount dramatically different experiences after reaching out again last year.

"Victims are treated according to their needs and according to the extent of the injury suffered," said the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chancellor for the diocese and a spokesman for the bishop.

The church does not dispute that the large payments were made to the 39-year-old victim. But precisely how Hubbard interacted with the victim remains unknown because the bishop's and the victim's accounts differ in several significant ways.

"It was clear to me that one of the reasons he met with me personally on dozens of occasions was to make me understand that I was still bound by my 1994 confidentiality agreements and not to go public," said the victim whose large payments were disclosed for the first time this past weekend.

The bishop has adamantly denied pressuring the man not to speak publicly about his case. Doyle said the bishop lent his support and friendship to a church member in need.

On Wednesday, the two victims spoke to the Times Union on condition of anonymity in interviews arranged by their attorney, John Aretakis.

The man who received $225,000 last year said he first contacted the diocese in 1994 about his abuse, at which time the church paid him $150,000 to settle any claim he may have had against Bentley and the diocese, officials acknowledge.

As the national sexual abuse scandal, which erupted in Boston in January 2002, received widespread public attention here and across the country, the man said he contacted the church again in April. In May, he received a check for $75,000 from an escrow account at the church's Albany law firm, Tobin and Dempf.

On June 27, the Times Union reported that the church had settled one case with a victim of priest abuse for nearly $1 million in 1997.

News of that settlement came as a shock to the man because Hubbard had told him during several of the recent private meetings that the $150,000 the church paid him in 1994 constituted the largest settlement in the history of the diocese, according to the victim's account.

Doyle strenuously denied that allegation on Wednesday, saying, "I absolutely deny that the bishop would have said that."

The victim said he received a call from Hubbard on the night of June 26, when the bishop prepared him for the pending news reports. To back up his recollection, the victim on Wednesday provided a cordless phone with a caller identification screen indicating a call received at 9:39 p.m. on June 26 from the church's chancery residence, listing the name Howard Hubbard.

When asked about the bishop's call on the night of June 26, Doyle on Wednesday first said: "The bishop did not call (the victim) on that day and had no conversation on that day, and had no conversation about the ... settlement."

When asked about the caller ID on the phone provided by the victim, Doyle immediately changed his statement.

"The bishop's recollection is that (the victim) had called him that day and in the course of the conversation that day he said to the bishop, 'You seem a little down,' and the bishop said something to the effect that there is a story coming out tomorrow that is going to be harmful to the church," Doyle said. "That was the full extent of that conversation" relating to the $1 million settlement.

When asked about the discrepancy in his two responses, Doyle said he had "misunderstood the question." He later further clarified that the bishop had returned a phone call from the man.

In August, Sister Maureen Joyce, director of Catholic Charities, handed the victim a bank check without the church's name on it for $150,000. In an interview Monday, Joyce said the money was intended to help the man purchase a home for him and his family.

Last year, Hubbard also agreed to pay the same victim $25,000 a year for five years. Doyle said that money was intended for education bills so the man could become employable.

The victim and his attorney declined to discuss the discussions that led to the $150,000 payment in August.

The man said money was not his primary concern. He said he wanted information about the other priests who molested him as a young teenager when Bentley took him on trips to New Jersey and Cape Cod.

The man said church officials helped him identify at least two of the other abusive priests, but his relationship with Hubbard and others soured when he pressed to learn about additional priests he believes molested him.

Doyle denied the church had identified any other of the man's abusers, which he said the man never discussed when he came forward in 1994. Church officials found some of his allegations to be groundless and others remain under investigation, Doyle said.

After his falling out with Hubbard and others, the victim filed a lawsuit this month in state Supreme Court, accusing a church therapist, Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, of professional malpractice for urging him not to hire a lawyer and for discussing his case with Hubbard.

Church officials never offered any large cash payments to the other victim whom the Times Union interviewed Wednesday. He said he is still receiving the bus passes and grocery vouchers in the mail monthly and has not sought more. "I was satisfied with that," he said. "I just went in there to talk to them about helping me with some food."

He said the church may have been unfriendly to him because he had violated his confidentiality agreement in 1999 when he talked to an Albany television reporter about his abuse.

At a church conference in June, Hubbard was one of the most vocal opponents of the zero-tolerance policy that mandates the removal of any priest with a single confirmed incident of sexually abusing a child.

On June 28, Hubbard removed six priests from the Albany diocese who were known to have sexually abused a minor. The diocese also acknowledged last year that it paid out $2.3 million to settle possible claims of sexual abuse by priests. However, the $225,000 paid to the man last year was not included in that total, officials said this week.

This week, Doyle said the church has set in place a policy that future financial and material assistance for victims of sexual abuse will be reviewed by the diocesan sexual misconduct panel. The cases of the two men interviewed Wednesday had not been reviewed by the panel, Doyle said.

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