success stories

Posted March 5, 2004

Statistics to Ponder on Abuse Cases
of Priests Between 1950 and 2002

These statistics lead us to ask:

-- How do they compare with other major institutions that have had employees accused of sex abuses?

-- What other institution has taken the pains the Catholic Church has taken to rectify matters?

-- Do we know as of yet what exactly causes a person to commit this crime?

-- Have the victims and their families received the care for which the Church stands?

-- What ultimately happens to a sex abuse offender? Where does he end up; who cares for him; how does he get on with his life?

How much of the psychological damage that occurs can really be repaired? What must victims and victimizers live with the rest of their lives?

Where, in our spirituality, do we find the healing needed to normalize, as much as is possible to normalize, lives once again?

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- During the 1950-2002 period, 615 priests were investigated by police on allegations of child sex abuse, with 217 priests being charged and 138 being convicted, said a national study of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

The 615 priests represent 14 percent of the 4,351 priests accused of abuse with someone under 18 during the same period, said the study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The low number of priests investigated resulted from the few allegations reported to police, it said.

The study, which was commissioned by the U.S. bishops' National Review Board and released in Washington Feb. 27, does not specify why so few accusations were reported.

Karen Terry, principal John Jay investigator, told Catholic News Service that in the vast majority of the cases the criminal statute of limitations had expired when the allegations were made.

The study said that 75 percent of the abuse incidents occurred from 1960 to 1984 but that two-thirds of the allegations were made after 1993.

Terry added that during the period examined by John Jay many states did not require church officials to report child sex abuse allegations to civil authorities.

The study reported that the 138 priests convicted represent slightly more than 3 percent of the clergy who faced allegations. Of those convicted, 100 received prison sentences, slightly more than 2 percent of the priests accused of abuse.

However, the convictions represent 22 percent of the priests investigated and 64 percent of those charged.

The study said that other sentences included house arrest, electronic monitoring, probation, fines and community service. Some convicted priests received a combination of penalties, it said.

Three men were sentenced to life imprisonment and two others were required to register as sex offenders, the study said.

Regarding charges, 70 priests were cited for acts involving genital sex while the rest were charged for activities such as fondling that did not involve genital contact, said the study.

Of those convicted, 44 were sentenced for acts involving genital sex and the rest for acts not involving genital contact, it said.

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, told Catholic News Service that the John Jay study cost $500,000.


Disciplinary actions varied against priests,
says sex abuse study

By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After allegations of child sex abuse against priests still in ministry were substantiated by church officials, church disciplinary actions carried out in those cases ranged from doing nothing to suspending clerics, said a comprehensive national study on the church crisis covering 1950-2002.

For 10 percent of the substantiated allegations, no action was taken against the priest, and in 6 percent of such allegations the priest was reprimanded and returned to ministry, said the study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Priests involved in 29 percent of the substantiated allegations were suspended, it said.

Principal investigator Karen Terry told Catholic News Service that church officials substantiated allegations against about two-thirds of the 4,392 clergymen accused of sex abuse during the 52-year time period.

She said allegations against permanent deacons that were substantiated were minimal and are included in the figures for priests. The survey reported that 41 permanent deacons and 4,351 priests were accused of abusing 10,667 people.

Terry said the fact that some of the allegations were not substantiated does not mean they were disproved.

The study was commissioned by the U.S. bishops' National Review Board to show the nature and scope of the clergy sex abuse crisis. It gathered information from 195 of the 202 dioceses, Eastern-rite eparchies and ecclesial territories tied to the United States. It also contains data from 60 percent of the religious communities in the United States representing 80 percent of the religious priests.

The study, which cost $500,000, was made public Feb. 27 at a Washington news conference.

Part of the study tracked the actions taken by dioceses and religious communities against priests involved in about 10,000 substantiated allegations. Because many priests had multiple allegations made against them, the study recorded the disciplinary actions as a percentage of the allegations.

In almost all of these cases, church officials substantiated the allegations through their own investigations, an admission of guilt by the accused or a criminal conviction, Terry said.

The most common action taken was to offer the priests medical help, such as specialized treatment, evaluation and/or individual psychotherapy, the study said.

Almost 37 percent of the accused received medical assistance, with many then subject to other actions, said the study.

Disciplinary actions besides suspension included:

-- Priests involved in 24 percent of the substantiated allegations were put on administrative leave.

-- Religious priests involved in 6 percent of the substantiated allegations were returned to their order or reported to their superior.

Since most allegations were made years or decades after the abuse incident, at least 23 percent of the accused priests were no longer in ministry at the time the allegation was reported, the study noted. They had died, retired, resigned, been laicized or removed from ministry, it said.

The study reported that 75 percent of the abuse incidents took place from 1960 to 1984 but that two-thirds of the allegations were reported after 1993.

Regarding how church officials received all allegations, the study said that half were made directly by the victims and 20 percent by lawyers for victims. Relatives, public officials and anonymous reports accounted for most of the rest, it said.

Principal investigator Terry said that in many cases the long time lapse between the incident and the allegation made it impossible for church officials to gather the data necessary to prove or disprove an allegation, especially if a priest had died or had left ministry without maintaining contact with church officials.

"This doesn't say abuse didn't happen," she said.

According to the study methodology, John Jay researchers did not automatically log all allegations initially reported by church officials. Instead, follow-up questionnaires were sent to get more information on the accused and the victim by which to judge the allegation, said the study.

Researchers discarded allegations that were withdrawn or where the priest was exonerated.

To be listed, an unsubstantiated allegation had to be plausible in that there was no immediate evidence the abuse could not have taken place, such as an accusation made against a priest who never served in the diocese, said the study.