Study: about 4% of Catholic Priests Have Faced Sex Charge

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post [Washington DC]
February 22, 2004

WASHINGTON - The nation's Roman Catholic bishops will hand ammunition to their critics this 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 what church records show about the number of U.S. priests who have been accused of child sexual abuse, the age and gender of their victims and the legal settlements that helped keep many cases out of the public eye.

CNN reported last 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 Saturday, may be different. New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to compile information supplied voluntarily by U.S. dioceses, 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, school 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.

Gregory declined to comment on the leaked numbers but made clear that bishops are bracing for a "disturbing" report.

"Whether the truth is greater than some have felt, or greater than maybe anecdotal descriptions have been, we're preparing for the truth," he told reporters in a teleconference.

"What we are about to see is the aggregate number over 50 years of how this crime and this horrible event has touched the lives of children through Catholic clergy."


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