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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Diocese numbers higher

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

The percentage of priests accused of sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane is higher than the national average.

About 4 percent of all American clerics who served from 1950 to 2002 - 4,392 out of 109,694 - were accused of molesting minors, according to the long-awaited study documenting the Catholic Church’s sex abuse problem.

In Spokane, however, the rate is 6percent.

“Since even one is an unacceptable number, this number, this percentage, is cause for grave concern among many and rightly so,” the Rev. Steve Dublinski, the diocese’s vicar general, said during a press conference Friday.

Bishop William Skylstad said he doesn’t know why the Spokane rate is higher than the national average. He did, however, emphasize that to his knowledge, there hasn’t been one instance of abuse by a priest or deacon in the diocese since 1991.

The bishop’s comments came after the release of a highly anticipated study that measures the extent of abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. Issued by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by the nation’s bishops, the report found 10,667 abuse claims nationwide since 1950.

The national report doesn’t break down the number of cases by diocese, but many - including Spokane and the Boise diocese - had already released their own statistics. Skylstad also pointed out that the Spokane diocese is one of only a few in the country that have named perpetrators.

Since 1950, the Spokane diocese has had 70 accusations of abuse committed by 10 priests, some still living and others who’ve since died. The diocese has records on 201 priests who have served here since 1950.

Two priests - Patrick O’Donnell and James O’Malley - were responsible for about two-thirds of the abuse cases in Spokane.

The Boise diocese, which covers the entire state of Idaho, reported 21 allegations. Twelve clergy members out of a total of 422 who have served in Idaho - almost 3 percent - have faced credible allegations of abuse, Bishop Michael Driscoll wrote in last week’s Idaho Catholic Register.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted the tally of abuse claims for the review board, receiving survey responses from 97 percent of the nation’s 195 dioceses, plus 142 religious communities.

It calculated abuse-related costs such as litigation and counseling at $572 million, and noted that the figure does not cover settlements within the past year, including $85million in Boston.

So far, the sex-abuse scandal has cost the Spokane diocese $946,000, with nearly 80percent of that total going toward attorney and consultant fees. The Boise diocese has paid about $140,000 over the last 52 years for counseling, medical treatment, legal expenses and one settlement.

“I can assure you that the diocese of Boise will continue to make every effort possible to assure that the Catholic Church in Idaho provides the safest possible environment for children and young adults,” Driscoll wrote in the Idaho Catholic Register. “We very much regret that someone working in the name of the church, especially clergy, ever abused any child or young person.”

Those sentiments were echoed Friday afternoon by Skylstad, who has repeatedly apologized to victims.

“We’ve strived to be transparent and open,” he said, noting that diocese officials have done “all within our power” to respond to victims and to share all of its pertinent records.

To date, the diocese has received accusations against 13 priests from about 100 victims. This figure includes claims prior to 1950 and after June 2003, when statistics were compiled for the John Jay study.

“We cannot change history,” Skylstad wrote in a letter that was distributed to parishes last weekend. “But we can work to make sure history does not repeat itself. This study … is just such a step. The statistics are a source of grief and sorrow for us all.”

The numbers will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to the community, said Mike Shea, a member of the local Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The group says it knows of 120 people who were abused by clergy in the diocese. Their list of perpetrators also has 31 or 32 names, Shea said. Many are afraid to come forward, said Dan Carpenter, another SNAP member.

While some have applauded the bishops’ efforts to expose the Catholic Church to such scrutiny, Shea and other victims remain critical. “It’s like praising a bank robber for saying `please’ and `thank you,”’ said Shea, who says he was abused when he was 15 years old.

On Friday, the National Review Board also released another report that examines the causes of the molestation crisis and puts much of the blame on American bishops for not cracking down on errant priests.

“This is a failing not simply on the part of the priests who sexually abused minors but also on the part of those bishops and other church leaders who did not act effectively to preclude that abuse in the first instance,” the review board said. “These leadership failings have been shameful to the church.”

Skylstad, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he will not make excuses for the bishops. “We made mistakes,” he said. “It’s been a rather bitter learning experience for us.”

Don Brockett, a member of Voice of the Faithful and supporter of the Survivors’ Network, said that “the hierarchy of the church obviously had knowledge there were serial pedophiles among them.” But instead of reporting them to authorities, church leaders moved them around from parish to parish, said the former Spokane County prosecutor.

“The cover-up is the outrage,” he said.

The review board also said celibacy was not a cause of the scandal, but that the celibacy requirement may have attracted candidates for the priesthood who were seeking an escape from their sexual problems. The board came to no direct conclusions about whether gays should be ordained; however, it noted that “any evaluation of the causes and context of the current crisis must be cognizant of the fact that more than 80percent of the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature.”

In the national study, more than 80 percent of the alleged victims were male and over half said they were between ages 11 and 14 when they were assaulted. In Spokane, 96percent of the victims were boys, Dublinski said.

The Spokane diocese will continue to examine how it screens candidates for the priesthood, Skylstad said. He assured people that seminarians today undergo a more stringent process than those who entered the priesthood during his time.