Bishop Accountability
  National Priest-Abuse Study Leaked to Media

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
February 16, 2004

A draft of the upcoming national survey of sex abuse claims against Roman Catholic priests has been viewed by CNN, which reported Monday that 4,450 clergy have been accused of molesting minors since 1950.

The draft survey said 11,000 abuse claims have been filed against the U.S. churchmen during that period, CNN reported.

The national numbers do not include statistics from the Diocese of Davenport, which was one among the 3 percent of all dioceses nationally that did not respond to that study, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The college is scheduled to release a report Feb. 27 and refused to comment on the CNN report.

The Davenport diocese cited conflicting instructions from the study and a judge’s order in one of the 12 lawsuits it faces regarding sexual abuse by priests.

The diocese plans to release its own internal review of allegations in 50 years of diocese records “very soon,” diocese attorney Rand Wonio said.

“People are going to be largely

reassured that it’s not a widespread problem involving the priests in this diocese,” Wonio said.

The nationwide survey is


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being overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel that the American bishops formed, and conducted by researchers from John Jay.

Board members contacted Monday by The Associated Press wouldn’t say whether or not the latest statistics were accurate. They stressed the report is not finished, and that any numbers tallied so far could change before the study is released Feb. 27.

The figures are roughly in keeping with a trend the AP reported on last week.

Some individual dioceses have released the abuse statistics they compiled for the national survey, and the AP has been tracking those reports. Through Monday, 84 of 195 U.S. dioceses had reported claims — with 1,413 clergy accused of abuse since 1950.

That statistic is already much greater than the scope of abuse previously estimated by victims’ groups and the media.

“I would hope that the public would kind of withhold any immediate judgment until they get the full story on Feb. 27th,” said Leon Panetta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff and a National Review Board member.

Robert S. Bennett, a prominent Washington attorney and another review board member, said survey drafts are circulating only among board members and John Jay researchers.

No bishops have seen the draft, said Bennett, who also is overseeing the board’s investigation into the causes of the clergy abuse crisis. The results of that inquiry will also be released Feb. 27.

“Both the National Review Board report and the John Jay study are still in the process of being written,” Bennett said. “People should wait until then to draw their conclusion.”

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was traveling Monday and could not immediately be reached for comment, said his spokesman, David Spotanski.

The bishops commissioned the unprecedented study as part of a series of reforms meant to restore trust in their leadership. The 84 dioceses that released statistics have reported 2,990 abuse claims so far.

CNN reported that the draft survey said 78 percent of those abused were between the ages of 11 and 17, and that more than half the accused priests had a single allegation filed against them.

It said the report blames the sex abuse crisis on the bishops’ failure to grasp the gravity of the problem, their misguided willingness to forgive and their emphasis on avoiding scandal, among other things.

Victim advocates say the survey ultimately will underestimate the number of cases because it is based on self-reporting by bishops.

Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents 10 men in lawsuits against the Davenport diocese, said names are more important than numbers.

“Obviously what needs to be done, is the names of the abusive priests need to be made public so people can protect themselves,” Levien said, adding that priestly sexual abuse is underreported.

“Unless there’s a true outreaching investigation, we will not know the true number,” he said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)

Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or


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