Bishops say abuse allegations dropped dramatically in 2009

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WASHINGTON (RNS) The number of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy in the U.S. declined dramatically last year, even as similar accusations spread through Europe, according to a report commissioned by the country’s Catholic bishops.

There were 513 allegations against 346 U.S. Catholic clergy last year, both drops of more than 30 percent from 2008, and the lowest totals since the church began taking a tally in 2004, according to figures released Tuesday (March 23) by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Most of the allegations accuse diocesan priests of molesting boys aged 10-14 decades ago, according to the report. Six instances of abuse against minors occurred during 2009; 48 allegations were determined false or unsubstantiated.

The report was conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; it surveyed 193 of the 195 U.S. dioceses and 159 of the country’s 219 religious orders. One percent of the dioceses and 27 percent of the orders did not respond to the survey.

Victims’ groups say reports are bogus because they rely on dioceses instead of outside observers to tally the allegations. “These numbers come from most of the same bishops who concealed and enabled clergy child sex crimes for decades,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “They are inherently suspect, to say the least.”

Even as the number of victims and accused clergy declines, the sexual abuse scandal, which erupted in 2002, continues to take a financial toll on the church. The U.S. church paid more than $120 million in settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, and legal fees, according to the report. About a third of that total was covered by insurance, according to the report.

The church also spent $22 million in child protection efforts, the report said. Since 1950, the Catholic Church in this country is estimated to have paid $2.7 billion in sex abuse-related costs.

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