Brace for 'Upsetting' News, Catholics Told

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]
February 21, 2004

The Tucson Roman Catholic Diocese is warning parishioners to prepare themselves for some "upsetting" news next week when a nationwide study of sexual abuse inflicted on children by American priests is released.

The much-anticipated survey on the toll of clergy abuse in the United States will be released Friday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A national board of prominent laypeople appointed by the bishops group commissioned researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to collect self-reported data from the country's 194 Roman Catholic dioceses and Eastern rite eparchies, which are dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Church that report to the Vatican. They are also part of the bishops conference.

"The results of the John Jay study are likely to be upsetting, even shocking," Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas wrote in a letter to be released to parishioners this weekend.

A report from CNN earlier this week that cited a leaked early draft of the study said 4,450 priests out of 110,000 who have served since 1950 have been accused of sexually abusing minors. If those numbers are accurate and the accusations credible, that would mean 4 percent of priests are accused of being molesters - far more than the 1 percent church officials had previously thought. Kicanas said he could not comment on the CNN numbers because he hasn't seen the study.

Tucson has had its share of bad news from a national scandal that erupted in 2002. The Diocese of Tucson, which includes 350,000 Catholics in nine counties, has made public the names of 26 clerics and one nun who have "credible" accusations of child sexual abuse against them. And last summer three priests who once worked in the local diocese were sent to prison for sexually abusing young boys.

In an interview Friday, Kicanas, chairman of the U.S. Conference's Communications Committee, stressed that Tucsonans will not find anything about the local scandal that has not already been publicized.

"Certainly there won't be anything new in terms of our diocese, but when you look at a cumulative report, it's unprecedented, and it's likely to be upsetting. You are looking at multiple figures covering a half-century," Kicanas said.

"Really, when you think about it, if even one priest abuses a child, that's shocking. If it's hundreds of priests, that's even more shocking. We don't know what the figures are going to be but it can be expected to be upsetting."

Kicanas said that if other professionals like teachers, therapists or physicians were to do similar studies on misconduct, they would likely also result in shocking numbers.

"No profession has ever been scrutinized to this degree," Kicanas said.

The Southern Arizona chapter of the victims group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests - SNAP - is encouraging members to attend a meeting Monday night that will focus on preparing survivors for the study.

"There are people behind these numbers," group director Jim Parker said. "I hope the survivors really get a sense of the magnitude of this problem and take a stand."

Parker is skeptical of the study because it was commissioned by the church.

"This is a survey done by the very people who have been trying to cover this up. I don't even know that the numbers are accurate. I doubt they are."

The John Jay study is the second report on clergy abuse in the American Roman Catholic Church released this year. The first was an audit that measured compliance with a national charter on sexual abuse that was adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002. Like a majority of dioceses, the local diocese got glowing praise in the audit. But many victims of clergy abuse felt it was biased and said they hoped the John Jay report would be more objective.

In a Feb. 13 letter about the study to priests in the diocese, Kicanas said the results reflect a desire by bishops around the country to "know the facts and face them directly."

Tucson is one of a very small number of dioceses in the country that released a public list of clerics with credible accusations of child sexual abuse against them, said Dr. Terence Carden, a retired Tucson physician who attends St. Pius X Catholic Church, 1800 N. Camino Pio Decimo.

Carden coordinates the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group of lay Catholics that formed in the wake of Boston's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

"In Tucson I think we know everything. As far as the rest of the study, I think there are going to be places like here and then places where they are not so forthcoming," Carden said.

He said the pervasiveness of the scandal has been extremely difficult for parishioners.

"I do think it's a hard thing for people, even people disgusted by what has happened. Many find it hard to accept or even come to grips with."


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