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Church in Crisis

February 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: The two long-awaited studies on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church were released at a press conference today in Washington. The first report was a statistical study by academics at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Principal investigator Karen Terry explained its focus.

KAREN TERRY: The mandate for this study was four-fold: To determine how many cases of child sexual abuse by priests and deacons occurred between 1950 and 2002; to collect information on the people who perpetrated this abuse; to collect information about each alleged incident or type of abuse; and to find out how much money the church has paid out as a result of the abuse.

MARGARET WARNER: The findings were based on detailed surveys filled out by 97 percent of the nation’s Catholic dioceses and 60 percent of its religious orders. Among the highlights: 80 percent of the more than 10,000 victims in the last half-century were male; half of the male victims were between the ages of 11 and 14; and just 3 percent of the nearly 4,400 abusive priests were responsible for more than one-quarter of the cases. Reported incidents surged between the mid ’60s and mid ’80s, the study found.

KAREN TERRY: You can see the most common years of ordination for priests with allegations of abuse is 1970, and in the year 1970, more than 10 percent of priests who were ordained in that year had allegations of abuse.

MARGARET WARNER: The study also documented church expenses of more than $572 million on settlements, legal fees and therapy for priests and victims, a figure that doesn’t include the recent $85 million settlement in Boston. The second study came from a group of prominent lay Catholics called the National Review Board. Its job was to examine why so many abusive priests were admitted to the ministry and why bishops failed to act on reports on abuse. Anne Burke was the board’s interim chairman.

ANNE BURKE: We have had no constituency but ourselves throughout the past 20 months. Our transparency has always been our most valuable resource. You can only judge us by our words and actions. You will see we have minced no words or opinions.

MARGARET WARNER: Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, which commissioned both studies, responded by again apologizing and saying changes had been made to prevent and weed out further abuse.

BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: Along with the pain and anguish we feel in reviewing the past, we can also discern signs that the actions we have taken over the last 15 years have had a significant effect. At this present moment, there is evidence of far fewer instances of abuse in the most recent past.

MARGARET WARNER: Bishop Gregory urged any victims who haven’t come forward to do so, and said Catholics everywhere should read the report.

BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: We have nothing to fear from the truth or from the past if we learn from it.

MARGARET WARNER: Victims groups, however, were critical of the studies.

PETER ISELY: The information that Catholics need and the public needs is not a number. It’s the names. These are known sex offenders. We have a right to know their names; Catholics have a right to know their names. And they need to know if they have been in their parish or their school. That’s the questions that need to be answered. They have that information. And being transparent means giving that information. The numbers won’t be very helpful. It doesn’t help us very much. And, lastly, we need to know where these men are right now.