Study Details Local Clergy Abuse

By James V. Franco
The Record [Albany NY]
December 5, 2003

ALBANY - Two percent, or 18 of the 814 priests who have worked in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany since 1950, have committed child sex abuse crimes, according to an in-depth study released Thursday.

According to the study by the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, there are 15 current or former priests being investigated in the Albany Diocese. Four of those priests are deceased, four are on voluntary leave, three resigned from ministry before the allegations came forward and four are in active ministry.

The study is part of a nationwide examination of clergy sex abuse from 1950 to June 2002 commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. On Feb. 27, the conference will issue findings for all 195 dioceses.

Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard said the raw data will help professionals better understand the nature of child sex abuse, not only in the Catholic Church but across the spectrum of professions.

"Why there has been these occurrences in the diocese or in any diocese across the country is one of the things we our

selves are looking into answers to," Hubbard said. "First you have to have data before you can analyze the causes."

Rev. Kenneth Doyle, a diocese chancellor, said "it will be interesting to see how the 2 percent matches up to other dioceses and with the rest of the male population.

"The guesswork is between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, both in the priesthood and in the American male population," he said.

Critics, however, quickly pointed out the diocese compiled its own data without an independent audit of personnel files, and asked why bishops waited until 2003 to reveal abuse that happened in 1950.

"Of course when you are under scandal, it is fantastic to release your own data with no independent source looking into it," said Mark Furnish, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Capital District Chapter. "From 1950 until now, where was the Albany Diocese on this subject, and why were not the prosecuting authorities notified?"

According to the report, in Albany since 1950, 52 priests and one deacon were accused by 121 individuals. The majority, 31, had only one complaint filed against them. Only two of the 53 clergymen were ordained in the last 20 years.

Allegations against 11 priests were deemed unfounded after an investigation, and allegations against nine others were dismissed because evidence was deemed insufficient to begin an investigation. There were also allegations by 20 individuals against 15 priests working in the Albany Diocese affiliated with other diocese or religious orders.

A similar study in the diocese of Covington, Ky., found reasonable cause to believe 30 of 372 diocesan priests have sexually abused one or more minors. The diocese received 158 allegations against those 30 priests, with 67 of the allegations against just one priest. Of the 30 priests, nine are deceased and four were removed. The other 17 have all been permanently removed from active ministry.

Since 1950, the Albany Dioceses paid out a little more than $3 million to victims to settle lawsuits, including a $1 million settlement in 1996. In addition, there has been $965,697 paid out in counseling, legal fees and other costs. The money came from the diocese's insurance fund.

More than 70 percent of the alleged incidents occurred in the 1960s and '70s, while less than 50 percent of the allegations were made in 2000 or later.

Hubbard pointed to upheaval in the church and society at large - such as Vatican II, civil rights unrest, the anti-war movement and the sexual revolution - as possible explanations.

"I would speculate it provided an environment for the violation of boundary issues," he said.

Hubbard said the nature of child abuse is just beginning to be understood by society, and that he is not surprised it takes 20 or 30 years for people to come forward.

"There is such a stigma with this. Many felt if they came forward, they would not be believed; many felt guilty themselves, as if they had done something wrong; and many, because of a defensive mechanism to kind of cover it up, push it down and did not want to face it," he said.

To stop future abuse, the diocese implemented a number of measures, including: background checks on all employees, more stringent psychological testing for new priests and stepped-up training for employees to spot signs of abuse.

John Aretakis, the attorney who represents a number of alleged clergy abuse victims, is out of town and could not be reached for comment. He has been a vocal critic of the Albany Diocese and Hubbard.

"I think he is an attorney that represents his clients aggressively," Hubbard said of Aretakis. "I have never met him personally, so I don't have any other insights beyond that."

Hubbard did say that the diocese lacked "transparency and accountability" in dealing with clergy sexual abuse in the past. For example, bishops often failed to tell parishes if a priest had been accused of sexual abuse in the past or if the priest received counseling for sexual misconduct. And bishops often treated the priests on a case-by-case basis.

At the 2001 U.S. Conference of Bishops, however, a "zero-tolerance" policy was adopted. Now, once an allegation is proven, the priest must be removed.

"We took every case seriously and we addressed every case that came to us and we reached out to all the victims," Hubbard said. "But there was not the transparency, not the accountability that is now called for."


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