Catholic Reports Detail Almost 11,000 Abuse Allegations

CNN International
February 27, 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's Catholic bishops Friday received two sobering reports on sex abuse by priests of minors, with one called a "shameful" tally of nearly 11,000 allegations against more than 4,000 priests and others under vows in the last half-century.

The other report explored the causes of the scandal, highlighting two factors that it says contributed to the widespread problems -- seminaries' poor screening of candidates and the prevalence of a "gay subculture" in the all-male, ostensibly chaste world of priests.

"This has been neither pleasant nor easy work," said Anne Burke, chair of the National Review Board, a board of laypersons organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "We have minced no words."

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reiterated apologies to victims who "have been harmed by those among us who violated your trust and the promises they made at their ordination. The heartfelt sorrow that we feel for this violation and the often ineffective ways with which it was dealt has strengthened our commitment to do everything possible to see that it does not happen again."

He asked that "all victims who have not yet come forward to do so, if that is now your choice," and he said there are signs that actions taken to address the problem over the past 15 years "had a significant effect."

Victims' advocates have said the figures were low.

"Thousands of victims haven't reported and dozens of bishops aren't telling all they know," David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests told The Associated Press. "They have no incentive to."

The description of the allegations was put together by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The statistics were based on a 97 percent response rate from 195 dioceses and 142 religious communities, representing about 80 percent of priests across the country, the school said.

The report uncovered 10,667 abuse allegations from 1950 to 2002, said John Jay College professor Karen Terry, who read many of the findings at the National Press Club in Washington. More than 80 percent of the alleged victims were male, and the most common were males between 11 and 14, the report said.

The allegations peaked in the 1970s, and the number of priests and others under vows to the church who were accused of abuse totaled 4,392, about 4 percent of all priests, the report said.

"Given the lag time typically found in reporting of child abuse, it is likely additional victims will come forward," the study said.

"The majority of priests [56 percent] were alleged to have abused one victim. One 149 priests [3.5 percent], those who allegedly had 10 or more victims, accounted for 27 percent of all allegations of sexual abuse by priests," a report synopsis said.

The researchers also received information from 86 percent of dioceses and religious communities on church expenditures regarding child sex abuse.

The survey found the amount of money paid out for victim compensation, the treatment of victims and priests, and legal expenses was $572 million. This total did not include a recently reported settlement of $85 million nor any amounts that might have been paid out since the data was collected, the report said.

Study: Candidates not screened properly

Robert Bennett, a Washington attorney who headed a task force that wrote the report looking into the causes of the crisis, said diocesan and other orders "simply did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly," pointing to many immature ordained men "not prepared for living a chaste and celibate life."

He said that seminaries "lost their way" and their reform must be a high priority.

That report said seminaries did not adequately address the sexual revolution of the 1960s, "resulting in confusion about priestly identity on the part of some seminarians and priests."

"One of the consequences of this confusion in identity was confusion in behavior," the study said. "Many seminaries provided seminarians with an inadequate training in the theology of the priesthood and failed to follow church teaching on issues of sexual morality."

The report said that many interviewed in the study "believe that these boys were denied the opportunity to develop socially and psychologically because of the closed culture of the seminary. ...

"Some of these individuals, ordained in their mid-20s, had the emotional maturity of adolescents. This lack of 'normal' psychosexual development may have hindered some of these priests from achieving a healthy celibacy and may explain why some of them sought the company of adolescent boys."

Bennett also said that an "understanding of the crisis" is not possible without reference to homosexuality since more than 80 percent of abuse at issue "is of a homosexual nature." Chastity, he said, is a "paramount question" in the all-male environment and care must be taken in the selection of priests.


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