Church Tallies Abuse, Costs
Bishop Hubbard Releases Study That Shows 15 More Sex-Abuse Suspects Being Investigated, $4 Million Has Been Spent on Settlements, Fees
By Brian Nearning
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
December 5, 2003
ALBANY -- The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese is investigating an additional 15 current or former priests for sexual abuse of children, a figure that nearly matches the number already removed for credible allegations of abuse.
In addition, the diocese has paid almost $4 million in victim settlements, counseling costs and legal fees since 1950, according to a report released Thursday by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.
The report is the first time the diocese has publicly acknowledged the scope of a scandal that erupted nearly two years ago and indicates that the issue remains a problem for the diocese and its 400,000 Catholics in the 14-county region.
"We believe knowing the full historical extent of this problem will help make our current and future efforts to prevent clergy sexual abuse of minors more effective," Hubbard said during a news conference at the Pastoral Center on North Main Avenue.
He added that he was "surprised" by the "depth of the problem" shown in the report, which will be included in a nationwide study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The study of the 195 dioceses was ordered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 after the sexual abuse cover-up scandal in the Boston Archdiocese. The study, to be released in late February, is expected to present a snapshot of the problem since 1950, and will assess the number of priests and victims involved as well as financial costs.
Albany is the first of New York's seven dioceses to issue its report ahead of the national study. Hubbard said the diocese decided to voluntarily release the information now because it wanted to be "accountable and transparent."
The results were first reported Thursday in the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist.
According to the report, 52 priests and a deacon in the diocese have been accused of sexually abusing children since 1950. When the allegations surfaced was not indicated in the report.
The diocese has previously acknowledged that 18 priests were removed from active ministry due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Of those 18, five are appealing the decision and are on indefinite leave. Two of the 18 priests have since died.
The report also acknowledges for the first time that there are now 15 separate investigations of recent claims of abuse. The bishop refused to identify those under investigation, but said four who denied the allegations continue to work in active ministry because they are not considered a threat to the community. He would not elaborate.
Of those remaining, four are on voluntary leave and not in contact with parishioners, four resigned without admitting the allegations and three are dead.
Hubbard also refused to say whether the diocese has any future financial liability for current victim settlements. The diocese has covered settlement and other costs through its own self-insurance fund, which is filled through parishioners' donations to their parishes.
In the report, the bishop also apologized to abuse victims for the dioceses' past "mistakes" before his leadership, particularly in moving priests suspected of abuse, and who have gone through therapy, into new parishes without warning people there.
The diocese has since adopted a new policy that calls for the removal of any priest found to have sexually abused children.
Hubbard said the report showed cases of sexual abuse occurred mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, with many victims only recently coming forward. Nearly 80 percent of abuse cases date from the 1970s or earlier, while almost half of the reports have come since 2000.
"There was a stigma associated with it, and some of the victims may have thought they would not be believed," Hubbard said.
He said that only two of the 53 clergy accused were ordained after 1980 -- the year the diocese changed its psychological testing for potential priests.
A spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the release of the report, saying it was self-serving.
"They use their own data and their own statistics and come out smelling like a rose," said Mark Furnish, director of the Capital District SNAP chapter. "They should let an independent auditor in and look at their personnel files and clear this controversy up."
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