[R-G] Sex abuse claims shock for US Catholics
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Tue Feb 17 18:05:44 MST 2004
Tuesday February 17th 2004
The Guardian (UK)
Sex abuse claims shock for US Catholics
Draft report shows 4,450 clerics accused since 1950
Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
A survey of child sex abuse claims against the Catholic church in America
has uncovered thousands more cases than previously believed, according to a
draft report leaked to the media yesterday.
The survey of Catholic church records found that more than 11,000 abuse
claims have been filed against the church since 1950. In the same period,
4,450 members of the Catholic clergy have been accused of molesting children
and young people, according to a draft of the report leaked to CNN.
The majority of those abused were between the ages of 11 and 17. Many of the
sexual predators identified yesterday were involved in multiple cases of
The survey, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New
York, was envisaged as part of a spirit of re form within the Catholic
church, ordered with a view to restoring trust in a discredited leadership.
However, the scale of abuse exposed yesterday, and a potentially explosive
publication later this month on how church leaders dealt with abuse over the
years, could prolong a divisive era in American church history.
Some commentators were confounded by the sheer scale of abuse yesterday. A
web-based database of predatory priests maintained by victims' groups had
previously compiled a list of 1,800 priests. The Associated Press, which has
also tracked cases of sexual abuse, has reported claims from 84 of 195 US
dioceses, involving some 1,413 members of the clergy.
However, David Clohessy, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused
by Priests, argued the survey still did not reflect the true scale of abuse
within the church over the last 50 years. He said: "Many Catholics will be
stunned, and rightfully so, but we hope that they move beyond shock and
revulsion into action, and continue pushing for real reforms in the
The survey leaked yesterday was part of a two-stage study intended both to
try to come to grips with the scale of abuse within the Catholic church in
America, and to explore the circumstances that allowed sexual predators
within the clergy to prey on children, often with the protection of the
Last autumn, surveys were posted to Catholic dioceses across America asking
bishops to provide information about the incidence of abuse by clergy within
their individual areas of jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the second stage of the survey explored what factors allowed such
wide spread abuse to persist over so many years. Researchers blamed the
church's unwillingness to recognise the seriousness of the problem, and said
the leadership was more concerned with protecting its reputation than
Although the surveys initially caused resentment within the church, Catholic
leaders said yesterday there was near-universal compliance with the survey.
The initial findings made for disturbing reading. More than half of the
accused priests faced more than one allegation of abuse. Three per cent, or
133 priests, were accused of 10 or more instances of abuse.
The church investigated and confirmed some 6,700 of the 11,000 allegations
of abuse. Another 1,000 were unsubstantiated, the report says. The remaining
3,300 were not investigated because priests involved were dead at the time
the allegation was made.
It was uncertain if yesterday's efforts to uncover the truth of the extent
of abuse will succeed in overcoming distrust among some sectors of the
Victims' groups remain frustrated at what they see as a continuing failure
by the church to identify and punish paedophile priests.
Such suspicion is unlikely to be alleviated by the revelation earlier
yesterday that the diocese of Brooklyn shielded three priests accused of
sexual abuse in violation of the guidelines adopted by the US Conference of
Catholic Bishops. All three priests were permitted to carry on their duties
despite allegations against them.
That decision violates guidelines adopted by the conference two years ago
that required clergy to step aside pending investigation of sexual abuse.
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