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Church Spending on Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Tops $1 Billion

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ 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. […]

c. 2006 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ 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.

(OPTIONAL TRIM FOLLOWS)

The Chicago case is disturbing because the Chicago Archdiocese has long been considered a role model on abuse issues and Cardinal Francis George, the vice president of the bishops’ conference, helped shape the 2002 reforms.

Patricia Ewers, chairman of the bishops’ advisory National Review Board, said the church must now ask whether its reforms are actually working, not just whether local dioceses have implemented them.

“The question is, how well are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing?” Ewers said.

In attempting to find a priestly profile of abuse, researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice examined detailed reports of abuse between 1950 and 2002.

Among the findings:

_ Accused clergy had spent an average of 11 years in ministry when initial allegations were made, with an average age of 39 when alleged abuse first occurred. Priests with large numbers of victims tended to start younger.

_ Priests who had only a single victim were more likely to target girls; priests who had multiple victims tended to go after boys.

_ The spike in abuse cases between the 1970s and 1980s echoes an increase in drug use, sexual experimentation, crime, child abuse and other “deviant behavior” seen during the same time period in the larger society.

_ Priests classified as pedophiles (with a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children) were more likely to gain access to victims using threats, while ephebophiles (attracted to post-pubscent adolescents) were more likely to use gifts to entice victims.

MO/JL END ECKSTROM