DIOCESE OF HELENA MT
The report which will likely receive the most attention in the press is the result of a study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on the “nature and scope” of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The study gathered data from throughout the United States for the years 1950 through 2002. Besides numbers of accused clergy and alleged victims, the study sought information on the number of alleged incidents, when those incidents occurred, what type of abuse was claimed and the costs incurred for legal fees, settlements and treatment of the abuser and the victim.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the USCCB, said, “We’re doing something bold. No other institution – none – has taken up this kind of serious study done in an objective, professional way.” He said the survey’s aggregate numbers concerning sex abuse cases over several decades may “add to the pain” of Catholics who already have been scandalized by the crisis. “It’s going to be startling because there’s no other comparable study by any other institution, and there’s no other study that details all of the good things the Church has done,” he said.
While the report will provide only aggregate statistics and will not include a diocese-by-diocese breakdown, a number of dioceses are releasing their individual numbers on their own.
In the Diocese of Helena, nine priests had allegations made against them between 1950 and 2002. The allegations against two of these were proven to be false or withdrawn, leaving allegations against seven priests – about 2 percent of the 337 clerics who served in the diocese during the years studied. A total of 17 minors alleged that these seven priests had sexually abused them. (Seven other allegations against the two priests mentioned above were proven false or withdrawn.)
Kevin Phelan, chancellor for the diocese, explained that determining the truth about events which were alleged to have occurred 30 years ago can be very difficult, especially when the accused and many potential witnesses are deceased. Of the 17 allegations, he said, “Some were admitted by the priest, others were denied by the priest, and others came forward after the priest’s death and we were unable to substantiate or discount the allegation.”
As reported earlier in The Montana Catholic and on the diocesan website, sexual misconduct by priests has cost the Diocese of Helena nearly $3.7 million in settlements, legal costs, and counseling of victims.
Some “good news” which may get lost amid the media attention which is likely to result from the Feb. 27 release is that in most dioceses, including the Diocese of Helena, the last known incident of clerical sexual abuse of a minor dates back before 1990. Most of the claims in the study, including all of those from the Diocese of Helena, involve incidents from the '60s, '70s or early '80s, and there is strong evidence that the Church is making progress toward preventing such abuse from happening again.
The second major report due to be released on Feb. 27 is from the National Review Board, established in 2002 to advise the U.S. bishops on matters related to sexual abuse. The anticipated report outlines the NRB’s conclusions about the crisis based on the findings of the John Jay study and on interviews with bishops, abusive priests, victims and a wide array of professionals. This report will set the stage for an in-depth “causes and context” study to be commissioned by the NRB. Officials for the NRB expect that this study will take a couple of years to complete.
Some believe that this final study may be the most important part in
the effort to understand and eliminate the sexual abuse of minors within
The information is to be included in an unprecedented national study looking into sex abuse allegations against priests. The full national report is expected to be released Feb. 27, but some individual dioceses, including the two in Montana, provided the information in advance.
The study, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is expected to provide a nearly complete tally of abuse claims against priests and the costs for legal settlements with victims, attorneys fees and therapy for victims and offenders. Only one diocese in Nebraska has refused to take part in the study.
Figures provided by the Helena Diocese show that since 1950, it has paid nearly $3.7 million in settlements, legal costs and counseling for priests and victims. The diocese did not provide a specific breakdown of those costs.
The diocese said that since 1950, nine priests were accused of sexually abusing a total of 24 minors. Seven allegations against two priests eventually were "proven to be false and withdrawn," the diocese said, leaving 17 allegations against seven priests.
Of those 17 allegations, "some were admitted by the priest, others were denied by the priest, and others came forward after the priest's death and we were unable to substantiate or discount the allegations," said Kevin Phelan, chancellor for the Helena Diocese. He did not elaborate.
Phelan said the last known incident of abuse by a priest in the Helena Diocese occurred before 1990, and that most of the claims involved incidents from the 1960s, 1970s or early 1980s.
At the Great Falls-Billings Diocese, 13 priests were accused of sexually abusing 20 youngsters, figures provided by the diocese show. Two of the reports of abuse were determined to be "groundless or are based on insufficient evidence," the diocese said. Thirteen of the reports involve alleged incidents that occurred prior to 1980, the diocese said.
Since 1950, the Great Falls-Billings Diocese paid out more than $674,000 to settle sex abuse cases. That included $95,000 paid by the diocese, $515,000 paid by its insurance carrier, $45,000 to counsel victims and priests and $19,300 in legal fees, the diocese said.
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