March 8, 2008 in Nation/World

Sex abuse claims against clergy drop; payouts rise

Rachel Zoll Associated Press

NEW YORK – The number of sex abuse claims against Roman Catholic clergy dropped for the third consecutive year, but total payouts to victims nearly doubled to reach their highest level ever, according to a new report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dioceses and religious orders received 691 new allegations last year, compared with 714 in 2006. The overwhelming majority of claims date back decades. Settlements with victims increased by 90 percent over the same period, to more than $526 million – the largest amount for one year.

The findings, released Friday, are part of an annual review the American bishops commissioned in 2002 as the abuse crisis consumed the church. A companion audit of bishops’ child safety policies found that nearly every diocese was following the plan.

Still, the bishops’ child protection officer cautioned against “issue fatigue.”

Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the sense of urgency surrounding the issue is easing as dioceses finish enacting the reforms and cope with the many other demands on their resources.

Auditors found that some lay-clergy review boards – created in every diocese to help bishops respond to abuse – hadn’t met in more than a year because no new allegations had been made. Two archdioceses – Denver and Anchorage – hadn’t reported abuse claims to civil authorities until after the lapse was discovered in the audit.

“Just because the number of victims has decreased, don’t feel that there aren’t more victims out there needing encouragement to come forward,” Kettelkamp said.

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