Survey of Nation's Dioceses Tackles Disturbing Questions

By James F. McCarty
Cleveland Plain Dealer [United States]
February 24, 2004

All of the horrible things that priests have done to children the past 50 years are covered in graphic detail on a survey sent to every diocese in the country.

Parts of the questionnaire were so disturbing that special arrangements were made to provide counseling for church offi cials who became overly distressed while filling it out. A sample of some of the least-offensive questions:

Was there sexual touching over the clothes or under the clothes of the victim?

Were photos taken while the victim was disrobed?

Was the victim threatened by the cleric in any way?

Did the victim receive any gifts or other enticements from the cleric? Money? A car? Alcohol or drugs?

Over the past several months, thousands of 12-page surveys, each with more that 100 questions, have been filled out by the 190 Catholic dioceses across the country and mailed to an auditor in Washington, D.C.

A half-century of sex-abuse statistics - the most comprehensive report of its kind ever attempted - will be released Friday by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, which compiled the numbers and authored the research study.

Also this week, Bishop Anthony Pilla is expected to announce the tabulations of sex- abuse crimes committed by clergy against children in the Diocese of Cleveland since 1950.

At the urging of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leaders of more than half of the dioceses in the country already have released some of their data submitted for the John Jay report.

Victims' groups and lawyers for victims are anxious to see how detailed Pilla gets in his report.

Bishops in other dioceses have limited the release of information to the barest of data, such as: The number of victims and clergy abusers, the amount of money paid to victims, and when most of the abuse occurred.

Diocesan spokesman Bob Tayek, while confirming that Pilla will make an announcement this week, would not say specifically what categories the bishop would address.

"It will reflect the localized figures and matters as they relate to the John Jay report," Tayek said.

From a public relations perspective, the amount of data released can be commensurate to the level of confidence each bishop instills in his flock, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the national bishops conference.

"It's up to each bishop what he wants to do," Walsh said.

"In this case, I think more information is better than less."

If he chooses, Pilla could reveal to the 800,000 Catholics of the diocese how many of the sex- abuse victims were boys and how many were girls.

Where did the money come from to pay the victims? How much of the money came from insurance? How much money was paid for public relations and lawyers?

The last question is especially relevant in light of the millions of dollars that victims' lawyers say the diocese has paid the powerhouse firm of Jones Day for legal defense work over the last two years.

"Only a fool would believe that he's going to give you the whole picture," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"Most of the bishops have been padding their news releases with all the wonderful things they've been doing. It's basically old stuff."

Joseph Smith, the top financial officer in the Cleveland diocese, was in charge of filling out the questionnaires until he was suspended Jan. 6 after allegations of accepting kickbacks from vendors were raised.

Before his suspension, Smith told diocesan board of trustees members that "People are going to be shocked" by Cleveland's numbers.

A preview of the report could be obtained from the findings of a seven-month investigation by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason in 2002.

Mason said more than 1,000 people claimed they were sexually abused as children by priests and church figures. Of the nearly 500 suspected abusers, 145 were priests - some of the highest numbers in the country.

The stated goal of the national study is to help the church "understand the problem of child sexual abuse by the clergy more fully and to enhance the effectiveness of our future response."

But critics of the report say the attention could uncover old wounds and open the church to new degrees of public rebuke.

In a draft obtained by CNN last week, John Jay reportedly has compiled data that shows more than 11,000 people said they were sexually abused as children by 4,450 priests between 1950 and 2002.

Susan Archibald, president of the victims group Linkup, called the findings far too low, but a symbol of a national tragedy nevertheless.

"How many [victims] will it take before this crisis is considered a national tragedy on the level of war, terrorism and natural disaster?" Archibald said in a prepared statement. "Perhaps we put too little value on a person's soul or spirit."

Walsh of the bishops conference, however, foresees only good coming from the release of the John Jay report.

"I think it gives confidence to your people that this problem is being dealt with," Walsh said.

"People can see that this is mostly from a long time ago and that things are better now. With the information, people are more comfortable; without it, people start imagining."

Missing from the report are the number of bishops who knowingly reassigned priests who abused children, noted SNAP and Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic group formed in response to the priest sex abuse scandal.

"We're of the mindset that the numbers don't mean much," said SNAP President Barbara Blaine. "It's hard to believe these bishops who covered up for decades are going to do a 180-degree turn now and start telling the truth."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4153


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