DIOCESE OF SHREVEPORT LA
"This is a failing not simply on the part of the priests who sexually abused minors but also on the part of those bishops and other church leaders who did not act effectively to preclude that abuse in the first instance," the review board said in its second report examining the causes of the molestation crisis. "These leadership failings have been shameful to the church."
In the Diocese of Shreveport, only one allegation was reported shortly after the diocese was formed in 1986. That priest was removed from ministry by Bishop William Friend, and the priest is now dead.
Four allegations were made in the 1960s when the diocese was combined with the Diocese of Alexandria. Two of those priests are dead; one is institutionalized and the fourth is no longer in the ministry.
"Every incident is a terrible tragedy that should not have happened," Friend said in a written statement. "I am sorry that children and young people have been harmed."
While lay people and the board were quick to point out the failings of U.S. bishops to stop the molestation crisis, the top American bishop pledged that the church's mistakes will never be repeated.
"The terrible history recorded here today is history," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Gregory's insistence did little to quiet victims' advocates, who immediately decried the report as misleading.
"Thousands of victims haven't reported and dozens of bishops aren't telling all they know," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "They have no incentive to."
Gregory said the reports tell "a tragic story." But he assured disillusioned Catholics that the bishops are fully committed to stamping out abuse.
"I can say with absolute assurance that the bishops now have in place the means of responding immediately to allegations, assisting victims and removing offenders from ministry," he said.
Locally, all priests, staff members and volunteers are required to go through training in protecting children. And the diocese is in the middle of conducting background checks on all of those people who work with children.
Lay boards and processes are in place to handle allegations quickly, said Christie Weeks, director of human resources for the Shreveport diocese. Weeks is in charge of the education programs.
"The bishop reiterated his interest to meet with anyone at anytime if something should come up," she said. "Bishop (Friend) has been extremely open to suggestions I've passed on to him and our priest council as well. I've had nothing but co-operation in the 18 months I've been working with them."
In coming months the diocese hopes to better educate parents and children on the issues of sexual abuse.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted the tally of abuse claims for review board, receiving survey responses from 97 percent of the nation's 195 dioceses, plus 142 religious communities.
It found that, of the 10,667 reports of assaults on minors, more than 10 percent could not be substantiated and roughly 20 percent were not investigated because the priest accused was dead or inactive when the allegation was received. Researchers said that approximately 6,700 claims were substantiated.
The John Jay report also calculated abuse-related costs such as litigation and counseling at $572 million, and noted that the figure does not cover settlements within the past year including $85 million in Boston.
The abuse tally also shows that the number of reported cases grew through the 1950s and '60s and peaked in the 1970s, then began to drop off - slipping notably in the last decade. Victims' advocates say that's because there is a reporting lag - victims often do not come forward for years or even decades.
Experts say there's no way to know whether priests are more or less likely to abuse minors than other people because studies of society at large are deeply flawed.
The bishops authorized the landmark studies to restore trust in their leadership. No other profession or religious group has exposed itself to such scrutiny on the abuse issue, even though molestation is an acknowledged problem among coaches, teachers and clergy of other faiths.
"We have to look at this on a societal level," Weeks said. "If we eliminate this in church, we still have lots and lots of children at risk in society. I hope it has a positive ripple effect in the larger community."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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