Special mediator seeks to deliver justice in church sex abuse cases

January 15, 2019 10:43 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) - Cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests in the Rochester area went into a special series of hearings this week before a retired state Supreme Court judge. 

"These are individuals telling their story," said mediator Robert Lunn. "They're not placed under oath. They're not cross-examined. It's somewhat of an informal setting."  

Lunn was hired by the Rochester Catholic Diocese to hear the cases of alleged abuse, some of them decades old, as part of a plan to bring accountability, recompense and a degree of closure to a gut-wrenching scenario.

"I can sum it up in three words. Betrayal of trust," Lunn declared. "It's very emotional for them. Very sad cases. They are recounting incidents that happened some 40, 45, sometimes 50 years ago, trying to tell it in a way that makes some sense to me."

As men and women have come forward to talk about the sexual abuse they endured as children, they also confronted the reality that, so many years after the crimes they suffered, a legal time limit, the statute of limitations, prohibits criminal prosecution or even civil lawsuits.  

Still Bishop Salvatore Matano engaged Lunn as an independent mediator in an effort to assess allegations still outstanding and bring his own judgment as a former judge to evaluate the credibility of each claim.

With no legal obligation to the accusers, Lunn said Matano was nonetheless trying to be "forthright and open" and do the right thing for them.

The bishop was also adamant, Lunn recalled, about the mediator being autonomous, independent of the diocese and free to make his own calls on how large a compensatory payment a victim might be entitled.

"It's been very emotional. It's also very healing and a good process," said Attorney Leander James who has represented assault accusers across the country.

James predicted eight of them would go before Lunn this week at the law offices of Trevett Cristo for a proceeding that would consist of the accuser talking to the mediator and telling a story. No other witnesses, no cross-examination, although the cases had been subjected to a fact-finding probe by the private investigators of McCabe & Associates. 

Lunn insisted he had no guidelines for the size of any monetary awards he was offering, just his own experience as a civil and criminal court judge and Bishop Matano's mandate that the mediator be independent.

His findings, he said, would be binding upon the diocese but not on the complainants who would be required to agree to no future legal action if they accepted an award from him, but were under no compulsion to accept his finding and offer if they disagreed with them.

"Through a confidential process," James said, "It gives these folks a forum to confidentially talk about what happened to them and, in doing so, I can tell you that the survivors of sexual abuse really reclaim their power."


Charles Molineaux

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