Church tallies up $800M scandal

Latest allegations of sex abuse by clergy - a total of 1,092 - has boosted burden on dioceses, survey says

Newsday/February 19, 2005
By Carol Eisenberg

Clergy sex abuse may no longer dominate the headlines, but 1,092 new allegations - including a handful from the Archdiocese of New York - were made last year, with the scandal's price tag now topping $800 million, Roman Catholic officials said Friday.

None of the new complaints from the archdiocese involved active priests, said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

"We received a few allegations last year involving priests who were deceased or who were already out of ministry," he said.

Nationwide, most of the alleged incidents also occurred decades ago and involved priests who had either died or been previously removed from ministry, or laicized, said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection in Washington, D.C.

"The crisis of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church is not over," she said. "What is over is the denial that this problem exists."

The new data brings the total allegations of sex abuse since 1950 to 11,750 against more than 5,000 priests and deacons, McChesney said.

About half of the 756 priests and deacons named in the new allegations had not previously been identified, she said.

It could not be learned Friday whether any of the new complaints came from the Brooklyn or Rockville Centre dioceses.

McChesney said the price tag for abuse - including settlements, victim and offender therapy and attorney's fees - came to $157.8 million last year. The cost of new child protection efforts was $20.2 million.

That brings the totals spent by the church since 1950 to more than $800 million, a mounting burden that has prompted three dioceses - Portland, Ore., Tucson, Ariz., and Spokane, Wash. - to file for bankruptcy.

The information released Friday comes from a survey U.S. bishops commissioned to help restore trust in their leadership and from the second round of annual audits to determine their compliance with the so-called "one strike and you're out" policy endorsed at the height of the clerical abuse scandal in June 2002.

All three New York-area dioceses, along with 95 percent of the nation's dioceses, were found in compliance with the policy that requires reporting abuse allegations to civil authorities, criminal background checks for church workers and the suspension from ministry of anyone credibly charged with abuse.

Bishop Fabian Bruskiewicz of Lincoln, Neb., was the only bishop who refused to participate. Four bishops, in Burlington, Vt., Fresno, Calif., Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., and Youngstown, Ohio, were found in partial compliance.

The audits, performed by a company hired by the bishops, were criticized as "minimal and misleading" by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nationwide organization that represents thousands of abuse victims.

Critics warned of signs the bishops' commitment to reform is waning, citing the vote three months ago to reduce the number of dioceses that will receive full on-site audits this coming year. Some also assailed the bishops' inability to force one of their own to participate in child protection programs.

"For any bishop in the Church to ignore the elements of the Charter is reprehensible, and for fellow bishops to ignore Bruskiewicz's decisions proves that fraternal correction is impotent," said Linda Pieczynski of Call to Action, a lay reform group based in Chicago.

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