Seven Percent of Boston Priests Accused of Abuse, Report Says

By Pam Belluck and Carla Baranauckas
New York Times
February 26, 2004

BOSTON, Feb. 26 About 7 percent of the ordained priests who served in the Archdiocese of Boston from 1950 through 2003 have been accused of sexual abuse of children, according to a new report issued today by the archbishop.

The archdiocese, at the center of the sex abuse reports that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church, said that 162 priests were accused of sexually abusing 815 minors in the five-decade period studied. "Slightly more than half" of the accusations involved "just seven archdiocesan priests," the report said.

The report dealt only with accusations, regardless of the outcome of the cases.

In addition to the archdiocesan priests who were accused, 3 deacons, 10 priests living in the archdiocese but not under its supervision and 44 priests from religious orders were accused.

In making the report public, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley said in a statement, "Unless and until the scope, causes and context of the sexual abuse of children by clergy are understood in all their devastating detail, attempts to address it will remain insufficient."

Two national reports on the scope of the problem, one a statistical study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, are scheduled to be released on Friday. The other report, on the causes, is based on more than 100 interviews conducted by a subcommittee of the national review board of prominent laypeople that was appointed by the bishops in response to the scandal.

CNN reported on Feb. 16 that an early draft of the John Jay report found that 4,450 priests had been accused of sexually abusing minors nationwide in the past 50 years. The number represents about 4 percent of priests to have served in the last half-century, a far higher percentage than previously claimed by church officials. A prominent Vatican official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in 2002 that less than 1 percent of priests were guilty of molesting minors.

Some dioceses both small and large have released their specific numbers recently. The Denver Archdiocese said sex abuse accusations had been made against about 1 percent of its priests over the period of the study; the Pittsburgh Diocese, 1.9 percent; the Boise, Idaho, Diocese, 2.8 percent; and the Little Rock, Ark., Diocese, about 2 percent, according to The Associated Press.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation's largest, did not calculate a percentage figure but did report on Feb. 17 that 244 priests, deacons, brothers and seminarians and one bogus priest had been accused of sex abuse by 656 people over the last 75 years. More than 5,000 priests have served the archdiocese in that time, the Los Angeles report said.

Archbishop O'Malley said the numbers in the Boston report dealt only with accusations. "It does not mean that a determination criminally, civilly or canonically has been made regarding the truth or non-truth of the allegation," he said.

Through December, the Archdiocese of Boston had paid $120.6 million to settle sexual abuse claims, the report said. Of that amount, $22.3 million has been paid through insurance. The church has also borrowed $90 million to pay claims. "The money that was borrowed will be paid back through money recovered from insurance companies and by the sale of archdiocesan property in Brighton, including the former archbishops' residence," the report said.

The figures released by the church today are an increase over the estimate made by the Massachusetts attorney general in July after a 16-month investigation.

The attorney general, Thomas F. Reilly, said then that at least 789 children had been abused by 250 priests or other church workers since 1940.

Today's report from the archdiocese said that the majority of accusations were reported from January 2002 to December 2003 but that the vast majority of the incidents were said to have occurred from 1965 to 1982.

"I apologize once again to all who have been hurt so grievously by priests and the bishops who were responsible for supervising them," Archbishop O'Malley said. " We thank the victim-survivors and their families for courageously coming forward and telling their stories to us and to others."

Archbishop O'Malley, a Capuchin friar, was installed in the Boston Archdiocese on July 30, replacing Cardinal Bernard M. Law, who resigned in December 2002 under increasing pressure related to the way sex abuse accusations had been dealt with. In many instances, priests who had been accused were simply transferred to other dioceses, without any indication of the reason for the transfer, in an effort to protect the reputation of priests and the church.

The day after his installation, Archbishop O'Malley fired the lawyers who had been representing the church against about 500 claims of sexual abuse and hired a lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., who was known for swiftly settling such cases.

Pam Belluck reported from Boston and Carla Baranauckas reported from New York for this article.