DIOCESE OF PENSACOLA-TALLAHASSEE FL
The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was audited as part of the study, and - as a result - has revised its code of conduct for priests and deacons. Since its establishment in 1975, the local diocese, consisting of 62 parishes in 18 counties, has removed six priests accused of molesting minors, said the Rev. Michael Mooney, diocese spokesman. Two of those priests are dead.
"This represents 1.9 percent of the priests who have served in the diocese over 28 years," he said.
As a result of the known abuses, the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese of the Catholic Church has identified 17 victims and paid out $456,761 in settlements, medical/counseling and legal fees. Since 1997, there have been 21 allegations of sexual abuse, said the Rev. Michael Reed, chancellor for the diocese.
"Most were 10, 15, 20 years ago," Reed said. "A few were 30 years old."
In August, Monsignor Richard Bowles, a priest at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Pensacola at the time, resigned after admitting to molesting a boy 34 years ago while serving as a priest in the Diocese of St. Augustine. In September, Bowles was accused of sexual abuse involving another boy during an out-of-state trip in 1971.
Pensacola-Tallahassee Bishop John H. Ricard apologized to the church in an open letter to local parishioners and has promised to protect children from sexual abuse.
"Like you, I feel angered and sorrowful about the violation of God's law by priests who have abused children," Ricard wrote in the letter mailed in November.
The numbers in the national study reflect about 4 percent of clerics during the past five decades. Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to a news release Thursday night. Of those, claims by 6,700 were substantiated. Another 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen were dead.
The national report also tallied abuse-related costs at $533.4 million.
The U.S. Conference of Bishops commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct the study. The survey was overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel the bishops formed at the height of the abuse crisis. The review board scheduled a news conference for this morning in Washington to discuss the report and a companion study on how the abuse crisis developed.
In the Boston Archdiocese, which spurred recent national attention on the issue, 162 priests were accused of molesting children since 1950.
Pensacola resident Mike Thompson, a Catholic, said he is disappointed with church management's response to the crisis.
"The thing that bothers me the most is that the church has been so slow to respond to allegations of abuse," Thompson said.
Reed said the church has taken steps to address the issue.
The report, however, acknowledges that some bishops recognized the gravity of the problem early on and spent years lobbying the Vatican to change church law so they could move faster against abusers.
The study also said the bishops sometimes were ill-served by the therapists and lawyers they sought out for guidance.
Still, there have been widespread reports of bishops who sheltered abusers, and the review board harshly criticized churchmen who failed to act.
"In the overall picture," Reed said, "I think people of this area see we are really trying to be open and honest and see that when there are legitimate accusations, we remove the priest."
The U.S. Catholic Bishops Office of Child and Youth Protection audited the diocese in August. Auditors found its code of conduct to be confusing, and the booklet has since been revised.
The diocese was commended in the audit for its sexual-abuse workshops for church adults and mandatory fingerprinting of all clergy and church personnel who have contact with children.
Bagdad resident Pat D'Asaro, a lifelong Catholic and member of St. Rosa of Lima Church, said the church was forced to address the issue in the aftermath of the scandal.
"I feel it needed to be done," D'Asaro said of the universal Catholic Church's need for self-examination. "At some point, you have to be ready to forgive and move on with it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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