Catholic Church Official Speaks about Abuse
Number Affected Likely Higher Than Reported

By Frank E. Lockwood
Herald-Leader [Lexington KY]
Downloaded March 7, 2004

When Kathleen McChesney was hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to lead its child and youth protection office, she searched in vain for reliable statistics about child sexual abuse in the church.

McChesney, a former high-ranking FBI official, said she was "quite amazed" to discover that the data didn't exist when she was hired by the conference in November 2002. "The church did not know collectively how big the problem was," she said.

The size and scope of the problem is no longer a mystery, McChesney told a group of 70 Catholics at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington yesterday.

A recent study commissioned by the church found that 10,667 people have accused priests of sexually abusing them. The number of priests who have been accused is 4,392 -- about 4 percent of all active priests who served between 1950 and 2002.

McChesney says the true number of victims and perpetrators is probably substantially higher.

Many victims remain silent for decades before speaking out. Others never come forward, she said.

"We know that sex abuse is the most underrepresented crime in the United States," she added.

Accountants can total up the price tag the church is paying: up to $800 million for lawyers, treatment, counseling and financial settlements.

But the spiritual and emotional toll is harder to calculate.

McChesney called the abuse "a bruise to the soul, a devastation to the soul that is very hard to heal."

The problem, ignored for years, will now be closely monitored. Annual reports will quantify the problem from now on, she said. Openness and transparency will be hallmarks, she added.

After McChesney's speech and a question-and-answer session, audience members said they appreciated the opportunity to meet one of the church's most visible leaders.

"Everybody knows about the scandal, but they don't know what the church is doing" to fix the problem, said Celina Betancourt of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Barbourville.

Kay Montgomery, the leader of the Lexington chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the meeting was "very positive."

"I'm hopeful that this type of forum is going to continue throughout our diocese," she added.


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