Sex-abuse scandal still clouds church

SATURDAY, FEB. 19, 2005, 3:37 P.M.

Allegations continue; millions paid out

WASHINGTON – The sex-abuse crisis among Roman Catholic clergy is far from over, and continues to cost the church tens of millions of dollars a year, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to the report, at least 1,092 allegations of sex abuse were made against 756 U.S. Catholic priests and deacons last year, with more than 300 of the complaints naming clergymen who had not been accused before.

In addition, in 2004 America’s 195 dioceses paid out $139.5 million in legal settlements, attorney fees, and victim and offender counseling, while spending $19.8 million on training programs and other child-protection efforts. The church has now paid more than $840 million to settle abuse cases since 1950.

Those sobering figures were in a mountain of fresh data the bishops conference released as it issued its second annual audit report measuring compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted in 2002 to address the clerical sex-abuse crisis.

“We know this crisis is not over, because 3,227 victims received direct support from the church in 2004 for therapy, social services and pastoral care,” Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, said at a news conference at the National Press Club.

The figures came from the audit of dioceses, as well as a follow-up survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Other 2004 findings were:

Most of the alleged abuse incidents occurred between 1965 and 1974, well beyond the normal statute of limitations for prosecution.

Half of the clergymen had been accused before – and 72 percent of them were already deceased or removed from ministry.

22 of the accusers were minors under age 18.

78 percent of the victims were male, and 56 percent were aged 10 to 14 when the abuse began.

McChesney said the data and a report issued a year ago covering the years 1950 to 2002, show that 11,750 alleged victims have reported abuse cases to the church.

“Most of these cases occurred between 1965 and 1974,” she said. “What that tells us is that the number of cases that are occurring now appear to be going down. The 22 cases that occurred last year is a far fewer number than would have been reported in the 1970s.”

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, took issue with that.

“To suggest that the rate of abuse is going down is reckless,” Clohessy said as he stood outside the conference room in the National Press Club. “There’s always a long lag time before complaints are made, and there’s nothing to suggest that has changed.”

At Friday’s event, church officials also released the aggregate results of its second round of compliance audits, based on field visits to dioceses last year by teams of former FBI agents contracted by the bishops conference.

The report said that only one diocese, Lincoln, Neb., had refused to be audited for the second year. Of the others, 96 percent achieved compliance, 74 percent of them immediately and the rest after addressing various concerns raised by the auditors.

By the end, seven dioceses remained out of compliance with at least some part of the charter, an improvement from the initial round, when 19 had “unremediated deficiencies,” said William Gavin, whose Gavin Group conducted the audits.

The child-protection charter is reaching the end of its two-year term, and the bishops and Vatican officials are considering revisions prior to a June vote on its renewal. McChesney, who is stepping down in a week, issued a set of 11 recommendations that her office and the lay National Review Board developed to improve the church response to the crisis.

Among them were that all Catholic schools and youth groups be subject to the charter, that annual audits continue, and that dioceses publish “an annul report to the faithful” that would tally new abuse allegations, give the status of the accused and provide the financial costs.

“Continued vigilance and dedication to this effort is not a choice,” McChesney said. “It is a necessity.”

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