Local priest abuse toll: 116 victims

Detroit archbishop details scandal's impact: 63 clerics involved; $1.4 million paid in settlements

The Detroit News/February 6, 2004
By Kim Kozlowski

The Archdiocese of Detroit released Thursday the human and financial toll of sexual abuse by its clergy over the past 50 years. Of the 63 clergy members who sexually abused 116 victims:

Sixty-three Roman Catholic clerics sexually abused 116 mostly male victims in the Archdiocese of Detroit over the past 54 years, Cardinal Adam Maida revealed Thursday.

The archdiocese paid nearly $1.4 million in settlement costs, including $470,000 in 1996 to one victim because of the severity of the case.

This is the first comprehensive picture of the clergy sexual abuse scandal the archdiocese has revealed. The report is in response to an unprecedented national survey due out later this month that will detail the scandal's human and financial toll.

As critics argued the self-reported figures may underestimate the number of actual victims, Maida acknowledged there might be more and encouraged people to come forward.

"I again offer my apologies to those who have been victimized and for our failures to address this matter appropriately over the years," he said. "I invite those with complaints to come forward, to call our toll-free line or to write to me, so that we may provide assistance where appropriate."

Bill McAlary, 59, who was abused by a priest in the Grand Rapids diocese when he was 12, said parents must remain vigilant.

"This announcement has not put an end to pedophilia in the Catholic Church," said McAlary, a Farmington Hills resident and leader of the Detroit chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "It is a centuries-old problem, and it's not going to end."

The national report was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection to grasp the nature and scope of the crisis. It was undertaken by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and will be released Feb. 27.

The national report was conceived by U.S. bishops in the historic blueprint they approved in Dallas two years ago at the height of the abuse scandal. The report will not include a breakdown of each diocese, so the Detroit Archdiocese joined several others around the nation in releasing its own figures.

The report asked for a 50-year history, between 1950 and December 2000, but the archdiocese included information through this month, spanning 54 years.

The 63 Archdiocese of Detroit clerics who sexually abused minors make up approximately 2 percent of the archdiocese's priests and deacons who served over the 54 years. Of the 63, 48 are archdiocesan priests, 15 of whom are deceased; 18 are members of religious orders; and two are deacons, one of whom is deceased.

Half of the $1.4 million settlement was covered by the diocese's insurance. But when those insurance policies reached their limit, the archdiocese, along with the other dioceses in Michigan, set up a special fund similar to a self-insurance fund. Investment income was initially used until the fund grew large enough to become self-sufficient. No Catholic Services Appeal or parish assessment money was used to pay for expenses, officials said.

The archdiocese did not provide details about the victims, other than to say they were "overwhelmingly" teen-age males.

It is difficult to compare the archdiocese's figures to dioceses around the nation because those that have unveiled the scope of their problem are smaller. The Archdiocese of Detroit, with 1.5 million members, ranks among the largest in the nation.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco, with 425,000 Catholics, reported 148 child molestation cases involving 50 priests and paid $10.25 million in settlements. In the Diocese of Washington, home to 550,000 Catholics, 26 priests were accused, 119 victims came forward, and $4.2 million was paid for counseling and care of priests and victims.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, questions the validity of the numbers church officials are reporting.

"If the bishops have fought for decades to keep these horrible secrets hidden, it's naive to suddenly think they've completely done a 180 and are now telling the whole truth," he said.

But revealing the figures is among the many steps the archdiocese has taken to restore trust, said Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot, chairman of the Archdiocesan Review Board.

A special eight-page supplement was expected to arrive in the mailboxes of more than 300,000 Catholic households in southeast Michigan this week, outlining the archdiocese's response to the crisis.

The diocese continues to train its 20,000-person staff in a program that teaches adults how to recognize signs of sexual abuse in children and perpetrators.

"These," Talbot said, "are our best-faith efforts."

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