Survey Puts Abuse Claims against Priests at 4,450

By Rachel Zoll
The Union Leader [New York]
February 17, 2004

NEW YORK - A draft of the upcoming national survey of sex abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests has been viewed by CNN, which reported yesterday that 4,450 clergy have been accused of molesting minors since 1950.

The draft survey said 11,000 abuse claims have been filed against the U.S. churchmen during that period, CNN reported.

The survey is being overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel that the American bishops formed, and conducted by researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

John Jay refused to comment on the CNN report, while board members contacted yesterday by The Associated Press wouldn't say whether the latest statistics were accurate. They stressed the report is not finished, and that any numbers tallied so far could change before the study is released Feb. 27.

Since July 2001, the Manchester diocese in New Hampshire responded to 207 requests for financial settlements with survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, some dating back to the 1940s, according to its stewardship and financial report released in December.

It reached 20 financial settlements before July 2001.

The diocese was responding to four outstanding requests for financial settlements that had not been resolved as of last Dec. 1, the report said.

Some individual dioceses have released the abuse statistics they compiled for the national survey, and The Associated Press has been tracking those reports. Through yesterday, 84 of 195 U.S. dioceses had reported claims - with 1,413 clergy accused of abuse since 1950.

That statistic is already much greater than the scope of abuse previously estimated by victims' groups and the media.

"I would hope that the public would kind of withhold any immediate judgment until they get the full story on Feb. 27th," said Leon Panetta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and a National Review Board member.

Robert S. Bennett, a prominent Washington attorney and another review board member, said survey drafts are circulating only among board members and John Jay researchers.

No bishops have seen the draft, said Bennett, who also is overseeing the board's investigation into the causes of the clergy abuse crisis. The results of that inquiry will also be released Feb. 27.

"Both the National Review Board report and the John Jay study are still in the process of being written," Bennett said. "People should wait until then to draw their conclusion."

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was traveling yesterday and could not immediately be reached for comment, said his spokesman, David Spotanski.

The bishops commissioned the unprecedented study as part of a series of reforms meant to restore trust in their leadership. The 84 dioceses that released their statistics have reported 2,990 abuse claims so far.

CNN reported that the draft survey said 78 percent of those abused were between the ages of 11 and 17, and that more than half the accused priests had a single allegation filed against them.

It said the report blames the sex abuse crisis on the bishops' failure to grasp the gravity of the problem, their misguided willingness to forgive and their emphasis on avoiding scandal, among other things.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.