Church Readies for Release of Sex Abuse Report

By Steve Arney
Pantagraph [United States]
February 24, 2004

The U.S. Conference of Bishops on Friday will release a report it commissioned to document, in totality, allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests since 1950.

Like a tornado, it will bring a devastation, notes sex abuse researcher Thomas Plante, but also an opportunity.

"It's also an opportunity to redesign the town -- to build new buildings -- into something better and stronger," he said Monday during an interview with The Pantagraph.

In March, Plante will release his second book on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. He is a professor of psychology for Santa Clara University in California. He counsels sex offenders and victims in private practice and conducts psychological screening for clergy candidates.

Here are some of his perspectives, mostly paraphrased, on the church abuse scandal and the coming report.

CNN, which received a leaked draft copy of the report, said the study will show that 4,450 priests were accused of sexual abuse by more than 11,000 victims.

Does the report seem accurate?

It is not surprising, and the numbers in the report itself should be accurate. The CNN report suggests 4 percent of 110,000 priests in 52 years had sex with minors -- mostly adolescents. The victim total was lower than Plante anticipated.

How much of this report is a reflection of a past versus a current problem?

Mostly, this is a reckoning with the past. Reports dropped off dramatically starting in the 1980s.

The drop in incidents of priest abuse coincides with better screening of priests and increased societal awareness of the issue and other sexual issues. Also, men started entering the priesthood at a much older age -- at 30 instead of in their late teens.

Further, society established clearer sexual boundaries in the 1980s. Since that time, far fewer therapists are having sex with their clients, and far fewer teachers are having sex with students, according to research.

Are priests more likely to abuse children than men in other positions of authority?

No, but "obviously, we'd expect better behavior from priests."

Is the Catholic scandal linked with celibacy of priests?

Yes, but not in ways commonly thought.

A spouse at home provides a check and balance to behavior.

Imagine if church leaders shared with their wives the handling of sexual abuse cases. A spouse could have confronted a bishop or cardinal and changed his approach from denial and defensiveness to decisive action.

Also, spouses ask men their whereabouts and monitor behavior. It could have made a difference in some cases.

Why have this scandal and subsequent study happened now?

Cases of priest abuse have surfaced -- with media reporting -- at various times over decades.

For some reason, reporting initiated by the Boston Globe in 2002 took hold, and intense media attention was combined with response of the bishops to bring the church to this point, in which it studied the full scope of abuse.

What of the church's future?

"At the end of the day, it's a solvable problem. Ultimately, I'm hopeful the Catholic church will get this right. I hope others follow."

Who was abused?

Eighty to 90 percent were boys in adolescence. So, junior high and high school boys are most at risk, not young altar boys.

Incidentally, 66 percent of the priests who abused were, themselves, abused.

Facts about the Peoria Diocese

The Peoria Diocese has released statistics on sexual abuse by priests within the diocese since 1950.

SOURCE: Peoria Diocese statement issued Monday.

- Scope of diocese: 26 counties, 17,000 square miles. Based in Peoria, it stretches from the Quad Cities to Danville and includes The Pantagraph's circulation area.

- Total number of priests: about 700 diocesan priests have served since 1950; 220 priests serve currently.

- Number reported as abusers: 14 priests face or faced credible reports of sexual abuse of minors.

- About alleged abusers: Of the 14, five are deceased. Of the nine living, one was removed from priesthood in the 1990s. The other eight were removed upon Bishop Daniel Jenky's review of cases upon his appointment in spring 2002.

- Settlements: Slightly more than $900,000 paid in legal settlements to victims.

- Money sources: Most from insurance. Remainder from diocese capital gains. None from annual diocesan appeal.


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