Study Reveals Clergy Abuse Figures
148 Molest Cases Reported since 1950 in S.F. Archdiocese
By Glen Martin firstname.lastname@example.org, Delfin Vigil email@example.com
San Francisco Chronicle [San Francisco CA]
February 2, 2004
The Archdiocese of San Francisco recorded 148 child-molestation cases involving more than 50 priests over a five-decade period, according to a statistical study of U.S. archdioceses scheduled for release on Feb. 27.
Commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and compiled by John Jay College, the study, the first of its kind, is an internal attempt by the church to put hard figures to the child-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic clergy in recent years. Church spokespeople say it is a good faith effort by the church to show the laity that clergy members are doing their utmost to address the issue in an effective way.
"No other institution is doing this kind of self-study," said Maurice Healy, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which also includes Marin and San Mateo counties. "There's a lot of data here."
In an open letter to his parishioners, San Francisco Archbishop William Levada wrote: "The actions we are taking . . . underscore our commitment to provide a safe environment within the Church for children, young people and everyone. All of us in our church -- clergy and faithful alike -- deeply grieve for the pain and suffering caused to victims and their families by the abuse and betrayal of children."
Critics say the report amounts to little more than a simple survey, one that must be treated with skepticism for two reasons: Not all dioceses responded to the conference's requests for information, and the figures don't necessarily reflect the true number of molestations that have occurred.
According to the San Francisco Archdiocese, 56 local priests were accused of sexually abusing 148 children between 1950 and 2002. In five of the cases, maintains the archdiocese, the allegations could not be supported by the evidence.
The archdiocese paid $10.25 million to settle with the victims. The numbers were released in the archdiocese's newspaper sent to parishioners.
"During that same period of time, 3,606 priests served in the archdiocese, " said Healy. "The point has been made that the rate of abuse by priests is no higher than it is with teachers or other people who have access to children."
Decline in cases
The peak of molestations occurred in the San Francisco diocese in the 1960s and 1970s, and has since declined, said Healy.
But critics say the church is simply doing now what it has done since the sex-abuse scandal broke in the 1990s: stonewalling.
"At the risk of quibbling, it is just a survey to us, not a report," said David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "Not only that, it is a survey conducted by those who've done their utmost to cover up this horrible scandal from the beginning," said Clohessy, who was abused by a priest in central Missouri in the late 1960s. "They have no incentive to come clean."
Clohessy added, "Our view is whether there were two, or 22, or 222 abuses in San Francisco is irrelevant. What is relevant is what the bishops are doing now to remedy the harm and prevent future abuse. And we think that's very little."
Tim Unsworth, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter and the author of several books on the priesthood, said the Catholic clergy remains hobbled by a conspiracy of silence that make it suspect to the laity.
"Their structure and social chemistry is almost identical to the Mafia," said Unsworth, a practicing Catholic who attends Mass weekly. "There is a deep secrecy and a fierce loyalty to the organization that makes genuine reform difficult."
Unsworth said about 10 of the nation's archdioceses didn't even respond to the conference's request for statistical information.
Still, said Unsworth, the report looks like a generally sincere attempt by the bishops to turn things around.
"I know (Bishop) Wilton Gregory (the president of the conference)," said Unsworth. "He's a very good fellow, and he has taken a tough stand. He told me many will find the results of the study extremely alarming. I think it's going to be explosive."
Some victims skeptical
But Terrie Light, the Northern California director for SNAP, said the figures released by the San Francisco Archdiocese seem low.
"From what I personally know of the victims in that diocese, it makes me suspicious," said Light, who was molested by San Francisco Archdiocese Monsignor George Francis when she was 7. She settled with the archdiocese in 1994.
"We know that child abusers typically molest repeatedly," said Light. "And we know that the documentation supplied by the diocese has been faulty. They supposedly transferred all case files to the relevant county district attorneys, but I found some missing on my own case in the San Francisco's D.A. 's office. The numbers just don't sound right to me."
The $10.25 million the diocese paid in settlement to the victims is almost twice the $5.4 million it announced it had paid in 2002.
But Healy said no duplicity is involved.
"If anyone had asked in the intervening time how much we were paying, I would've told them," Healy said. "No one asked."
Unsworth said the church can ill afford the billions it is shelling out to molestation victims.
"The church is rich in property, but poor in other assets, including cash, " he said. "These are awful big hits it is taking."
In San Francisco's Catholic churches yesterday, the mood seemed to be one of forgiveness for all sinners -- including those in the priesthood.
"People try to make our religion look worse than theirs, but all I know is that my religion and my priests have always been good to me," said Antonio Farr, a 14-year-old Catholic who stood on the steps of St. Patrick's Church on Mission Street prior to Mass.
"(The study) is definitely a positive thing," said Farr. "To me, it proves the Catholic Church doesn't have any secrets and isn't trying to keep things away from us. They've made mistakes and are trying to get our trust back."
Michael Lopez, a 20-year-old sociology student at San Francisco City College who attends St. Patrick's every Sunday, agreed.
"I go to church because of my faith," said Lopez. "Numbers don't mean very much to me. But I do think it's a good thing to get the numbers out in the open. For one thing, it shows how many priests are innocent."
S.F. abuse cases
-- Priests accused of child sexual abuse since 1950: 56
-- Child sexual-abuse victims: 148
-- Cases with insufficient evidence to sustain allegation: 5
-- Priests in ministry for the archdiocese at a parish, school or other facility since 1950: estimated 3,606 (does not include religious order priests who served in private universities, high schools or grammar schools operated by a religious order).
-- Amount as of Friday paid by the archdiocese's insurance carriers and its self-insurance program for legal settlements, therapy and counseling for victims and legal defense expenses: $10.25 million
Source: Archdiocese of San Francisco and Catholic San Francisco online newsletter
Chronicle staff writer Elizabeth Fernandez contributed to this report.E-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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