WASHINGTON – More than 4,000 priests were accused Friday in 10,667 cases of child sex abuse in the first official report on the subject from the Roman Catholic Church.
The number of accused priests is about 4 percent of the total of U.S. priests over 50 years.
The names of those accused will not be made public unless individual bishops choose to do so. Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville,Ill.,said this is because some “victims who have come forward asked that the names not be released.”
The report,released at a press conference at the National Press Club,was based on survey responses from 195 dioceses and 142 other religious groups. U.S. dioceses were asked to review their records from 1950 to 2002,and 97 percent responded,the report says.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted the research at the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Results show that most instances of sexual abuse occurred in the 1970s.
The 11-month study found that $572 million has been paid for victim compensation,legal expenses and treatment of victims and priests. This figure excludes the recent $85 million Boston settlement.
Researchers said they did not include in their statistics any case in which the accused priest was exonerated or the accusation was withdrawn.
A companion report by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People called the number of abuse cases involving priest over the past 50 years “significant and disturbing.”
The board of 12 lay Catholics conducted a yearlong study that included more than 85 interviews with victims,psychiatrists,legal experts,law enforcement officials,theologians and Catholic opinion leaders.
Robert Bennett,a Washington lawyer who chaired the board's study,said that some bishops relied too heavily on lawyers and psychiatrists and some “bishops simply were not willing to talk to other bishops.”
“It's always bad when a child is abused,but when the abuser wears a collar – it's worse,” Bennett said,noting that sexually abusing minors is a national problem. In 2002,100,000 children were abused nationwide,he said.
After the reports were released,Gregory,who heads the bishops' group,acknowledged the reports and addressed potential effects on the church.
With ongoing “careful scrutiny,” seminaries will monitor candidates for “sound moral,psychological and spiritual health,” Gregory said.
Bennett said that the church didn't screen priesthood candidates properly,and seminarians weren't trained adequately for the rigors of celibacy. These failures,the board's report states,allowed “many sexually dysfunctional and immature men” to be ordained.
Still,“children are much safer today in the church than they have been in the past,” Bennett said.
But now,the church does not know the whereabouts of some priests accused of misconduct who are no longer affiliated with the church.
“There are individuals who have left and simply are beyond our reach,” Gregory said.
The report found that four out of five victims were male. There were more alleged male victims ages 11 to 14 than in any other age or gender group.
Gregory urged all victims who have not yet come forward to do so. “I can assure you,known offenders are not in the ministry,” he said.
Priests should encourage their communities to read the reports,he said. Reviews will be made annually.
“We realize that without vigilance,things could once again get out of hand,” Gregory said.
“We have nothing to fear from the truth or from the past if we learn from it,” he said