March 24, 2010 in Nation/World

Catholic clergy abuse claims drop in U.S.

Eric Gorski Associated Press

While the Roman Catholic church in Europe reels from a widening sex abuse crisis, the scandal that has plagued the U.S. church for nearly a decade is tapering off, a report released Tuesday says.

The number of abuse victims, allegations and offending clergy in the U.S. dropped in 2009 to their lowest numbers since data started being collected in 2004, the report said.

The price paid by the church has fallen, too. Dioceses and their insurers paid $104 million in settlements, attorneys’ fees and other abuse-related costs in 2009, down from $376 million in 2008.

All told, the scandal’s price tag for settlements and other costs has risen to more than $2.7 billion, according to estimates.

The numbers of cases were expected to decline, but the financial impact remains severe, said Charles Zech, a Villanova University economics professor.

“The U.S. Catholic Church cannot afford that right now, not the way the economy has been going, the hit taken on diocesan investments, and to some extent parishioner contributions,” Zech said. “The church … can’t afford to be going on like this very much longer.”

The latest annual report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies 398 allegations of abuse involving clergy from Catholic dioceses in 2009 – a 36 percent decline from 2008. Most cases involved preteen or teen males and incidents that were decades old, in keeping with past patterns.

The number of offenders dropped 32 percent, to 286. Most are dead, no longer in the priesthood, removed from ministry or missing, the report said.

Of the allegations reported in 2009, six involved children under the age of 18 in 2009.

The report said that about one-eighth of the allegations made in 2009 were unsubstantiated or determined to be false by the end of the year.

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