Los Angeles (AFP) - Six Catholic dioceses in the United States rolled out a "compensation program" Tuesday as an alternative to court proceedings for minors sexually abused by clergy.
The program by the dioceses, all of which are located in California, will be managed by two independent monitors who have handled similar programs in New York and Pennsylvania, the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez said in a letter to worshipers.
"We are joining with five other dioceses in California in a new initiative to provide pastoral care and financial support to any person who has been sexually abused as a minor by a diocesan priest," Gomez wrote.
"We also understand that some victim-survivors are reluctant to come to the church for assistance. Our hope with this new program is to give these people a chance to seek redress and healing through an independent program."
According to California church officials, the program will be open to anybody who was abused by a priest as a minor, including people residing in the US illegally and those for whom the statute of limitations to prosecute their abuser has expired.
No lawyer will be necessary, and the process will be free and conducted in a "non-adversarial" manner that respects victims' privacy, according to the letter.
The six dioceses involved in the program represent some 10 million Catholics in California, many of whom have origins in Latin America where the church is particularly strong.
The Catholic Church both in the US and across the globe is struggling to deal with an epidemic of sexual assault by priests, much of it directed at minors.
The abuse has often gone on for decades and been covered up by church hierarchy.
The program's announcement came the same day that five Catholic molestation victims filed a lawsuit in a Minnesota federal court asking a judge to compel the Vatican to open its archives and release details of abusive priests.