Aide Says Extent of Church Abuse Unknown
By Richard N. Ostling
April 10, 2003
NEW YORK -- The extent of sex abuse cases among Roman Catholic clergy in America is still unknown, a top aide to the U.S. bishops said Thursday.
"We still don't know how prevalent the cases are, or how prevalent they are in other sectors of society," said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection.
McChesney, whose office was created last year in response to the nationwide clerical sex abuse crisis, spoke at a conference of roughly 100 civil attorneys, prosecutors and molestation victims at the Cardozo School of Law.
The meeting was believed to be the first large-scale gathering of the groups to share information about the abuse crisis, which engulfed the church last year. In 2002, at least 325 of the roughly 46,000 priests in the United States either resigned or were removed from their duties because of abuse allegations, many dating back decades.
McChesney said that when she started in her new post, she was surprised that the church had not tracked the extent of abuse cases nationally.
To put an end to the scandals, "what will make a difference is the lay people, watching, listening and talking to their bishops," she said.
McChesney also said that an audit to measure bishops' compliance with the new sex abuse policies approved by the U.S. hierarchy last year will be conducted starting in June by an independent contractor. A final report on the audit is expected in December.
McChesney said the crisis developed last year because many individual bishops did not follow sex abuse policies that the bishops' conference approved a decade ago.
"There was no accountability, no consistency," she said.
McChesney has hired a deputy, Sheila Horan, who started work with her office three weeks ago. Both are former top officials with the FBI.
A later session focused on church efforts in cities such as Boston and Los Angeles to fight abuse-related lawsuits on grounds of religious freedom.
Cardozo professor Marci Hamilton said the "so-called 'church autonomy doctrine'" has no basis in constitutional law. The doctrine contends that the church "need not comply with the same laws as everyone else in society obeys," she said.
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