Price Tag on Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Tops $1 Billion
BY KEVIN ECKSTROM Religion News Service
U.S. Catholic leaders received 783 allegations of clergy sexual abuse last year, which pushed the price tag of the scandal past $1 billion since 1950, church officials said Thursday (March 30).
In addition, researchers analyzed data from previous years to try to craft a profile of abusive priests. They found no clear warning signs about which priests might be prone to abuse.
"There are no identifiable pathologies," said Karen Terry, a researcher at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which conducted the study. "Those red flags just aren't there."
The new figures show credible charges were lodged against 532 priests by some 777 victims in 2005. Most of the cases are decades old, and only nine cases involved abuse against a minor committed last year.
Combined with totals released in the past two years, there have been an estimated 4,983 accused priests and 12,537 victims since 1950. Researchers said disclosures of past abuse have remained high, but new cases of abuse remain low.
Church spending on abuse-related lawsuits and therapy jumped by 173 percent last year to $466 million. The new figures put the total cost to the church since 1950 at $1.19 billion.
At the same time, watchdog groups and even some church officials are now openly wondering if the bishops' 2002 reforms are adequate to protect children from predators like the Rev. Daniel McCormack in Chicago, who is charged with abusing three boys last year after church officials failed to keep tabs on him.
The Chicago case is prompting new concern that U.S. bishops are tallying their own progress while not asking more important questions of whether those programs actually work in protecting children.
Church officials insist they are making progress, and point to the 89 percent of dioceses that have implemented the bishops' abuse reforms. Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, conceded the reforms are "a work in progress."
"It is disheartening to us bishops, as it must be to all Catholics, to find that there are still some allegations of abuse by clerics against today's children and young people," said Skylstad, who has been the subject himself of a recent abuse allegation, which he denies.
The abuse figures were self-reported by 94 percent of dioceses and 67 percent of religious orders. The data on whether a diocese has complied with the 2002 reforms was also self-reported by dioceses using 13-page audit sheets.
Victims' groups have long complained that the compliance audits and the abuse numbers are meaningless because they are self-reported by bishops who may provide incomplete or inaccurate figures.
Bill Gavin, head of the Boston-based Gavin Group that oversaw the audit process, said his research is only as good as the "correctness, completeness, accuracy and integrity" of the information provided.
Gavin said his team will return to on-site visits of all U.S. dioceses for the next round of compliance audits. "I don't think the church is ready for self-audits," Gavin said.
"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Shit! What a ride!'" ~Hunter S. Thompson