Sex Abuse Claims Shock for US Catholics
Draft Report Shows 4,450 Clerics Accused since 1950
By Suzanne Goldenberg
The Guardian [Washington DC]
February 17, 2004
A survey of child sex abuse claims against the Catholic church in America has uncovered thousands more cases than previously believed, according to a draft report leaked to the media yesterday.
The survey of Catholic church records found that more than 11,000 abuse claims have been filed against the church since 1950. In the same period, 4,450 members of the Catholic clergy have been accused of molesting children and young people, according to a draft of the report leaked to CNN.
The majority of those abused were between the ages of 11 and 17. Many of the sexual predators identified yesterday were involved in multiple cases of abuse.
The survey, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, was envisaged as part of a spirit of re form within the Catholic church, ordered with a view to restoring trust in a discredited leadership.
However, the scale of abuse exposed yesterday, and a potentially explosive publication later this month on how church leaders dealt with abuse over the years, could prolong a divisive era in American church history.
Some commentators were confounded by the sheer scale of abuse yesterday. A web-based database of predatory priests maintained by victims' groups had previously compiled a list of 1,800 priests. The Associated Press, which has also tracked cases of sexual abuse, has reported claims from 84 of 195 US dioceses, involving some 1,413 members of the clergy.
However, David Clohessy, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, argued the survey still did not reflect the true scale of abuse within the church over the last 50 years. He said: "Many Catholics will be stunned, and rightfully so, but we hope that they move beyond shock and revulsion into action, and continue pushing for real reforms in the hierarchy."
The survey leaked yesterday was part of a two-stage study intended both to try to come to grips with the scale of abuse within the Catholic church in America, and to explore the circumstances that allowed sexual predators within the clergy to prey on children, often with the protection of the church.
Last autumn, surveys were posted to Catholic dioceses across America asking bishops to provide information about the incidence of abuse by clergy within their individual areas of jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the second stage of the survey explored what factors allowed such wide spread abuse to persist over so many years. Researchers blamed the church's unwillingness to recognise the seriousness of the problem, and said the leadership was more concerned with protecting its reputation than protecting parishioners.
Although the surveys initially caused resentment within the church, Catholic leaders said yesterday there was near-universal compliance with the survey.
The initial findings made for disturbing reading. More than half of the accused priests faced more than one allegation of abuse. Three per cent, or 133 priests, were accused of 10 or more instances of abuse.
The church investigated and confirmed some 6,700 of the 11,000 allegations of abuse. Another 1,000 were unsubstantiated, the report says. The remaining 3,300 were not investigated because priests involved were dead at the time the allegation was made.
It was uncertain if yesterday's efforts to uncover the truth of the extent of abuse will succeed in overcoming distrust among some sectors of the Catholic church.
Victims' groups remain frustrated at what they see as a continuing failure by the church to identify and punish paedophile priests.
Such suspicion is unlikely to be alleviated by the revelation earlier yesterday that the diocese of Brooklyn shielded three priests accused of sexual abuse in violation of the guidelines adopted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. All three priests were permitted to carry on their duties despite allegations against them.
That decision violates guidelines adopted by the conference two years ago that required clergy to step aside pending investigation of sexual abuse.
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