An independent tribunal mailed checks totaling more than $3 million Tuesday to victims of clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
The mailing is the final step in a process that began in November 2003 when the archdiocese established a victim's compensation fund as part of a legal settlement with Hamilton County prosecutors.
Prosecutors and church officials selected the tribunal to oversee the fund, evaluate individual claims and determine how much money, if any, each alleged victim should receive.
Of the 134 people who filed claims with the tribunal, 120 are expected to receive a check this week. The amount of individual checks was not disclosed Tuesday.
"We found that the vast majority of them are eligible for compensation," said Robert Stachler, a Cincinnati attorney and member of the tribunal. "They exhausted the entire fund."
Michelle Jones, an Indiana woman who grew up in Greater Cincinnati, was among those who applied for compensation. She said a priest, now deceased, abused her for several years when she was a child in the 1950s.
Jones said she hopes the process and the compensation will help her and other victims heal. "I don't know if it will, but I hope so," she said. "I was really traumatized."
Victims' advocacy groups have criticized the fund because the church created it without input from victims and as part of a deal with prosecutors to end a long investigation into clergy abuse.
The groups also have complained that the archdiocese required anyone who applied for compensation to drop pending suits and to promise not to sue the church.
Church officials have said their goal was to provide at least some compensation to victims who otherwise would have received nothing because their cases are so old they are barred by the statute of limitations.
Dozens of victims refused to participate in the fund and many of their suits are pending against the archdiocese.
The fund's manager, Matt Garettson, said the $3 million the archdiocese put into the fund in 2003 has grown to $3.2 million because of interest. If the money were spread evenly, payments would be about $26,700 each. But Stachler said awards will vary based on several factors, including the severity of the abuse, the age of the victim and the impact on the victim's life.
Dozens of victims and accused priests sought and were granted interviews with the tribunal, which also included former Hamilton County judges Thomas Nurre and Ann Marie Tracey.
Stachler said victims were given the benefit of the doubt every time. He said the only cases rejected were those in which the priests did not work for the archdiocese or basic facts, such as the abuser's name or church, were inaccurate.
"It's greatly different from the standard that would have been required in court," Stachler said.
He said the tribunal's work is done. The compensation awards mailed Tuesday cannot be appealed.