TOPICS > Nation

Church Studies Show More Than 10,000 Reported Abuse Cases

BY Admin  February 27, 2004 at 3:20 PM EST

More than 80 percent of the alleged victims were male and over half said they were between the ages of 11 and 14 when they were assaulted.

About 4 percent of all American clerics who served during the years studied — 4,392 of the 109,694 priests and other members of the clergy — were accused of abuse, according to the reports from the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by U.S. Catholic bishops in 2002.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pledged that the church’s mistakes will not be repeated. “The terrible history recorded here today is history,” he said.

Victims advocates decried the numbers as low. “Thousands of victims haven’t reported and dozens of bishops aren’t telling all they know,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, according to the Associated Press. “They have no incentive to.”

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

Of the 10,667 assault claims, more than 10 percent could not be substantiated and 20 percent were not investigated because the priest accused was dead or inactive when the allegation was received. Researchers said about 6,700 claims were substantiated.

The report also found that costs connected to litigation and counseling totaled $572 million, which does not take into account settlements within the past year including $85 million in Boston.

Another review board report examined the causes of the molestation crisis and put much of the fault 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. “Those leadership failings have been shameful to the church.”

The 145-page report, written by prominent Catholic lawyers, judges, business people and bishop-appointed professionals, used interviews with 85 bishops and cardinals, Vatican officials, experts and a handful of victims.

Gregory said the reports tell “a tragic story,” and that Catholic bishops are committed to stamping out the abuse, the AP reported. “I can say with absolute assurance that the bishops now have in place the means of responding immediately to allegations, assisting victims and removing offenders from ministry,” he said.

The John Jay researchers found that only 14 percent of the priests accused of abuse were reported to the police by their bishops. The rest were never investigated, and 95 percent were never charged with a crime. Of the 217 priests charged, 138 were convicted, according to The New York Times.

Both reports suggest the bishops and religious orders, who supply one-third of the nations’ priests and many of which also cooperated with the John Jay survey, were unaware of how extensive the problem was until recently.

Since the abuse problem erupted more than two years ago in Boston, the bishops have adopted several reforms to protect children and adopted a discipline policy that bars sex offenders from all public ministry.