Posted April 11, 2007
Latest sex abuse report finds drop in reported victims
By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The number of people who said they are victims of clergy child sex abuse has dropped 34 percent since 2004, according to a national survey of dioceses and religious orders.
The survey was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in conjunction with the 2006 audit on U.S. church compliance with child protection policies.
The annual report on the survey and audit showed the same drop since 2004 in the number of credible allegations made and a 40 percent drop in the number of reported offenders.
The report collected data on credible allegations and costs related to child sex abuse in 2006 and compared them to the figures gathered in 2004 and 2005.
Lawyers' fees continued to skyrocket in 2006 but the amount of money paid out in settlements dropped by nearly $122 million from 2005, it said. Lawyers' fees totaled $75.1 million in 2006, an 82 percent rise from the 2005 figure of $41.2 million, the report said.
Also on a major upswing was the amount of money paid for living expenses, therapy and other support of offenders, it said.
The report was released April 11 in Washington by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection and the all-lay National Review Board established by the bishops to monitor compliance with child sex-abuse prevention policies.
This was the third year in a row that the report included statistics collected by CARA from dioceses, Eastern Catholic eparchies and religious orders on the number of new allegations and the costs related to clergy child sex abuse.
The study said 99 percent of the 195 dioceses and eparchies and 68 percent of the 220 religious institutes responded to the CARA survey, giving an overall response rate of 83 percent.
The drops in the number of victims and allegations show that "what we are doing in creating safe environments is working," said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.
But at the same time he called the report "sobering." While most of the new allegations concerned behavior that occurred decades ago, "the fact that there are any recent cases at all is very disconcerting," he said.
"We need to be consistent and do more," he told Catholic News Service.
He praised clergymen, church employees and volunteers for cooperating by undergoing background checks and by attending educational programs on preventing child sex abuse.
"I take heart in the increased funding for child protection efforts," he said. According to the study, dioceses and eparchies spent $25.6 million on child protection efforts in 2006, a 33 percent increase over the $19.2 million spent in 2005.
The report said almost $400 million was spent in 2006 on settlements, legal fees and other costs related to clergy sex abuse of minors. When added to previously published costs, clergy sex abuse has cost the U.S. church more than $1.7 billion since 1950. The exact figure is not known because no data were collected for 2003 and there has never been a 100 percent response.
There were 714 new allegations against diocesan and religious clergy in 2006, compared to 1,092 allegations in 2004 and 783 in 2005, the report said.
The 2006 allegations involved 710 victims and 448 offenders, said the report.
There were 1,083 victims in 2004 and 777 in 2005, it said. The number of accused offenders dropped from 756 in 2004 to 532 in 2005, it said.
Of the 2006 allegations 508, or 71 percent, involved abuse that took place or began between 1960 and 1984, the report said.
Published figures since 1950 also showed the 1960-84 period as being the years when most abuse took place. As with previously published figures, the overwhelming majority of the victims who came forward in 2006 -- 80 percent -- were male.
Patricia O'Donnell Ewers, chairwoman of the National Review Board, said the decline in the number of recent incidents reported in 2006 was encouraging.
"If there's anything we've learned from this, it's the need for zero tolerance," she said. "The risk of reassigning a molester is too high if even one child might be harmed."
Bishop Aymond said a study of the causes and context of clergy sex abuse is being prepared; one of its aims is to examine why there was a spike in clergy child sex abuse during the 1960-84 period. The study, to be done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, will look back at what was going on in the church during that period and "what was the morality of our society" at the time, he said.
The study is planned for completion in 2010.
The audit report said 58 percent of the 448 offenders identified in the new allegations had already been the subject of previous allegations.
Of the new allegations, 635 of the 714 reported in 2006 involved diocesan clergy, mostly priests, it said.
Regarding costs, settlements fell from $399 million in 2005 to $277 million in 2006, the report said.
Bishop Aymond told CNS that one possible reason for the higher legal fees could be that dioceses were seeking the advice of lawyers in states where there were efforts to expand the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. Added to this are "exorbitant legal fees," he said.
"These resources are not going to the victims," said Bishop Aymond. "This asks the question of our legal system: 'Where is the justice?'"
A substantial part of the increased legal costs could also be attributed to the abuse-related bankruptcy protection proceedings of two Pacific Northwest dioceses -- Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash. -- which together had more than $20 million in bankruptcy-related legal fees by December 2006, most of it spent in 2006. A party entering bankruptcy protection has to pay the legal fees of all parties involved.
Money provided for therapy for victims went from $7.4 million in 2004 to $8.4 million in 2005 to $10.6 million in 2006, the report said. This did not include therapy funds included as part of a settlement.
Support for offenders jumped from $1.9 million in 2004 to $13.7 million in 2005 and $32.3 million in 2006, it said. This includes therapy, living expenses and legal fees, the report said.
Bishop Aymond said the increases show the responsibility the church has toward victims, their families and offenders.
"We have a pastoral and moral responsibility to offenders, to provide care for them, to do our best to bring about healing and change in their lives, to hold them to some accountability for their actions," the bishop said.