Bishop Accountability
  Survey: More clergy abuse cases than previously thought

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today/AP
February 10, 2004

Allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church appear to have involved hundreds more priests than previous estimates suggest.

A survey of U.S. Catholic dioceses conducted by the Associated Press and released Tuesday found that 1,341 clergy members have been accused of molesting children since the 1950s. (Related graphic: Scope of accusations broadens) [See also the AP map of diocesan costs, posted by the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times on 2/11/04 at]

But the survey found that reports have been released to date by only 80 of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the USA. Among those that have yet to release numbers are large dioceses faced with scores of allegations, including Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.

"The numbers speak of a very sad story," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Previous estimates by news media and victims' groups have suggested that as many as 1,200 priests nationwide had been accused of sex abuse over 50 years.

But now the church is producing its own unprecedented, nationwide accounting of abuse claims, to be released Feb. 27. It will not report numbers for individual dioceses. Los Angeles and 59 other dioceses told AP they will release their numbers this month.

Individual dioceses were encouraged but not required to report their statistics. The AP survey included 80 dioceses that have elected to release some form of statistics. Ten of those dioceses reported no cases of abuse. The survey found that the other 70 dioceses have spent $186 million to settle or litigate the cases.

U.S. bishops established a review board in 2002 to investigate sex-abuse charges. It asked the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City to survey all 195 dioceses for 50 years of statistics on the numbers of abusive priests and victims and the costs of the scandal. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said he expects "shocking" numbers.

Walsh said the voluntary release of these statistics shows the "transparency and openness the church has shown in trying to deal with this problem." She said the bishops will rely on the John Jay study "to begin to address this problem adequately."

Past estimates vary because they differ on the period of time covered, the definition of "credible" accusations, and whether to include deacons, religious order priests and nuns. In past estimates:

• A November 2002 study by USA TODAY of the 10 largest U.S. dioceses found 234 allegedly abusive priests among 25,616 diocesan and religious order priests who served since 1965. The study estimated 900 allegedly abusive priests nationwide. The tally was based on church statements, court documents and media reports.

• A January 2003 review by The New York Times counted 1,205 allegedly abusive priests nationwide over five decades, based on court records and media reports.

In the AP survey, the dioceses reported that 179 of the 1,341 accused clergy are dead.

Critics of the church reporting said diocese-by-diocese reporting is necessary. Without it, "there's no way of knowing whether the church's reporting on itself is full and accurate," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.