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  Twin Cities: Church Releases Data on Abuse

By Stephen Scott
Pioneer Press [Minnesota]
December 11, 2003

Allegations of sexual abuse of minors were deemed credible in incidents involving 33 Catholic priests who worked in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis during the past 50 years, according to figures released Wednesday by the archdiocese.

The most recent incident allegedly occurred in 1988, according to the archdiocese, which voluntarily released information it submitted to a study mandated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The figures, which did not appear to contradict previous news reports about alleged incidents of abuse, provide the most comprehensive findings issued by the archdiocese. Among the disclosures:

Sixty-nine people in 50 years have come forward with allegations deemed credible that priests of the archdiocese sexually abused them as minors.

The 33 "credibly accused" priests represent 1.1 percent of the 3,026 priests working in the archdiocese during the past five decades.

Of those accused, 26 were priests of the Twin Cities diocese; the other seven were members of religious orders or from other dioceses but working here.

" 'Credible allegation' is as close as we get to the term 'guilty' without the finding of a court of law," said the Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general of the archdiocese.

The archdiocese also reported it has spent $6.69 million since 1988 for abuse settlements, as well as for treatment and counseling for victims and priests.

About a dozen of the diocese's priests against whom accusations were deemed credible are still living, McDonough said. None is in active ministry, consistent with stipulations of the U.S. bishops' abuse charter adopted in 2002.

The bishops that year required each of the 194 dioceses in the United States to submit 50 years of data about clergy sexual abuse of minors to an independent survey conducted by the John Jay College of Law in New York.

The John Jay study will be published in February, but will include only national totals, not diocesan figures.

As part of a growing trend among dioceses nationwide, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis decided to release its findings before the official report.

"I think they're voluntarily releasing them because they've done a relatively decent job here, they don't have a terrible track record, and they have been fairly open historically," said Gary Schoener, an expert on clergy sex abuse from the Walk-In Counseling Center in Minneapolis.

"Of course, if there's even one case it's troubling, but the percentages are low here compared with other dioceses," he said.

The archdiocese also reported it has passed an audit, ordered by the bishops conference and conducted in June.

Results of audits of every U.S. diocese will be announced in January. But the Twin Cities announced Wednesday it was found to be in "full compliance" with all requirements adopted by the bishops after the national abuse scandal broke in 2002.

Dioceses were required to permanently remove offenders from ministry, have written abuse policies, designate a coordinator of pastoral care for victims, create a clergy abuse review board, and cooperate with all local and state law enforcement agencies.

"The audit asks two questions," McDonough said. "Have you promised what you're supposed to promise? And are you doing what you promised?"

The audit team recommended that the Twin Cities archdiocese assign a single official to respond to allegations, streamline its recordkeeping of allegations, develop clear standards of conduct for all clergy and volunteers, and better monitor confirmed offenders who have retired or left the ministry.

According to a statement, the archdiocese is implementing more rigorous background checks for volunteers and has hired a former law enforcement officer to monitor recordkeeping and compliance.

The national audit announcement in January will list those dioceses not in compliance with the bishops' regulations. The statistical results of the John Jay survey in February will receive widespread attention, although skeptics will note the figures are self-reported by dioceses.

"The value is that it makes them accountable to report certain things to the public, because the public was waiting," said Belinda Martinez of the Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Yet how can we possibly know if they're telling the truth or not?"

McDonough acknowledged the challenge to the church's credibility.

"I don't expect people will buy it just because we've said it," McDonough said. "We're making a good-faith effort to tell the story as we understand it and know it, and people will have to decide.

"The last thing we're trying to claim is that we've put all this behind us. We're not claiming anything so brash."

CLERGY ABUSE SURVEY

Several U.S. Catholic dioceses, including St. Paul and Minneapolis on Wednesday, have self-reported survey responses about clergy sexual abuse of minors. Some findings:

The Twin Cities reported 33 priests working in the archdiocese (1.1 percent of total) were credibly accused over 50 years. Sixty-nine victims came forward.

Duluth reported 18 diocesan priests credibly accused by 42 victims over 50 years.

St. Cloud reported 26 priests (8.8 percent) credibly accused by 49 victims from 1982-2003.

Winona reported 13 diocesan priests credibly accused in 48 allegations over 50 years.

Washington, D.C., reported 27 priests (2.5 percent) accused by 119 victims over 56 years.

 
 

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