Catholic Bishops Brace for Sex-Abuse Report

The Washington Post [United States]
February 21, 2004

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops will hand ammunition to their critics next week by releasing a nationwide study of sex abuse in the church, but they hope that doing so will lead other organizations that care for children to conduct similar research, the president of the bishops' conference said Friday.

"I would like to believe that the Catholic Church is taking a bold step not only because of the seriousness of this issue for us, but the seriousness of this issue for all of society," said Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill.

The report will reveal, for the first time, what church records show about the number of U.S. priests who have been accused of child sexual abuse, the ages and genders of their victims and the legal settlements that helped keep many cases out of the public eye.

CNN reported this week that a draft of the study said 4,450 priests have been accused of molesting more than 11,000 minors since 1950. That would mean that roughly 4 percent of the estimated 110,000 priests who have served during that period have faced abuse allegations.

The figures in the final report, scheduled for release Feb. 28, may be different. New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hired to compile information U.S. dioceses supplied voluntarily, issued a statement saying CNN's numbers apparently came from a preliminary report in January. The college has since received additional data and made corrections, it said.

In the past, many Catholic officials have insisted that the percentage of abusers in the priesthood is no greater than in the general male population or in comparable groups, such as Protestant clergy, teachers and athletic coaches. They have scorned estimates by Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine priest, that 4 percent to 6 percent of all Catholic clergy had sexual contact with minors. In 2002, a senior Vatican official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said he was confident that "less than 1 percent" of priests were guilty of abuse.


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