U.S. Catholic bishops say 783 new claims of abuse reported in 2005

AP Worldstream; Mar 31, 2006

U.S. Roman Catholic leaders received 783 new claims of sex abuse by
clergy in 2005, with most of the allegations involving cases that
are decades old.

New figures released Thursday by U.S. bishops, bring the total number
of accusations against Catholic clergy to more than 12,000 since 1950.

While researchers who analyzed 50 years of data on molestation claims
concluded the number of new cases is declining, the church is still
paying a heavy price for predatory clergy.

The new figures show last year's cost of clergy abuse claims were
nearly $467 million (A386 million), the largest ever for abuse-related
expenses for a single year, according to Teresa Kettelkamp, director
of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The abuse problem was already known to have cost dioceses more than
$1 billion (A830 million) since 1950, including some expenses paid
last year.

The latest statistics were released as part of the third audit U.S.

bishops commissioned to restore trust in their leadership after
abuse allegations soared in 2002. Auditors found that 88.5 percent
of dioceses had put in place full safeguards for children required
by the bishops' reforms.

However, advocates for victims called the audit inadequate, since 104
of the 195 American dioceses conducted a "self-audit." In previous
years, teams from the Gavin Group, a private firm led by former FBI
agent William Gavin, had conducted onsite audits in all participating

Speaking at a news conference, Gavin and a key church official agreed
with the critics that the new report didn't capture the full picture.

They pointed to the recent failure of the Archdiocese of Chicago
to remove an accused priest from church work for four months until
he was criminally charged. The archdiocese was found to be in full
compliance in the 2005 audit, but an outside investigator hired by
Chicago Cardinal Francis George to look into the priest's case found
a string of stunning lapses by archdiocesan staff that left children
at risk.

The failures had an impact beyond Chicago because George played a key
role in shaping the bishops' new discipline plan that permanently bars
guilty priests from church work. George also is the vice president
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"To find that this happened in Chicago was a great sorrow and
disappointment to all of us," said Patricia Ewers, chairwoman of
the National Review Board, the bishops' lay watchdog panel. "If
people do not live up to their responsibilities, do not communicate
effectively, then you can have the kind of terrible consequences you
have in Chicago."

Ewers said the Chicago case provided strong evidence that the bishops
need to expand the scope of their audits and measure whether child
protection programs are working. Gavin supported the idea, which will
be brought before the nation's bishops.

In a companion report, researchers from the John Jay College of
Criminal Justice, who the bishops had hired to tally abuse claims
nationwide from 1950-2002, released a new analysis of that data which
found the number of new abuse cases peaked in the 1970s and 1980s
and then began to decline.

In 2004, dioceses received more than 1,092 new abuse claims, in
addition to the 10,667 claims the American church received from
1950-2002. However, just like the claims in 2005, most of the
allegations involved incidents from decades ago.

"The decrease in sex abuse cases is real," said Karen Terry, principal
investigator on the study.

The bishops' abuse prevention policy requires dioceses to hire victim
assistance coordinators, form review boards to help evaluate abuse
claims, conduct background checks on staff and volunteers and teach
children to protect themselves from predators.

The biggest failure auditors found was that several dioceses don't
have full safe environment training for children, and four dioceses
have not fully complied with the call for background checks. The four
dioceses are Burlington, Vermont; Portland, Maine; Salina, Kansas ;
and the Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics in New York.

Barbara Blaine, a found of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by
Priests, said none of the programs will work as long as no one is
monitoring the bishops _ who retain enormous discretion in overseeing
priests. Only the pope can discipline bishops.

Separately Thursday, the New Hampshire attorney general released an
independent audit her office conducted of sex abuse prevention in
the Manchester Diocese, finding that the church failed to make sure
that criminal background checks have been done on all employees and
volunteers who work with children.

The state audit was part of a 2002 agreement the diocese struck
with prosecutors to avoid criminal prosecution over failure to rein
in abusers.


On the Net:

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccb.org