- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

More than 95 percent of Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States passed an audit last year on how they are working to protect children from clergy sexual abuse, about an 8 percent improvement over 2003, a new report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says.

Auditing teams, often comprising former FBI agents, found that 187 of 194 dioceses met the standards established in 2002, including the Diocese of Arlington, the only local diocese to fail the first audit conducted in 2003. Eighteen other dioceses failed the first audit.

But, “the crisis is not over,” church officials said yesterday at a D.C. news conference, as 1,092 new sex-abuse accusations, including 22 from minors, were lodged against 756 Catholic priests and deacons in 2004.

While more than half of the accused clergy already are dead and had been named in other complaints, “over 300 of the reports received in 2004 identified alleged abusers not previously known,” said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

What is over, said Miss McChesney, “is the denial that this problem exists” and “the reluctance of the church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem.”

Clergy sex-abuse victims yesterday said they were not relieved by the report because it doesn’t measure effectiveness in reducing abuse and it leaves too much power with the bishops.

Before the sex-abuse scandal broke in 2002, “each bishop was in charge of handling sex abuse in his diocese. Today, each bishop essentially still is,” said David Clohessy, Barbara Blaine and other leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

“How can anyone really believe things have changed much” when the upper ranks of the church remain essentially intact, they said.

USCCB President Bishop William Skylstad thanked “those who have come forward after suffering such abuse.”

“We will never fully understand your suffering, but you have helped us to confront this most serious problem and take the necessary steps to rid the church of it,” he said.

The 2004 audit, conducted by the Gavin Group of Boston, reviewed 194 Catholic dioceses to assess their compliance with a “charter for the protection of children and young people.” The charter was created nearly three years ago by church leaders in the wake of clergy-sex-abuse cases in Boston.

Some 4,392 priests have been accused of molesting minors in 10,667 cases between 1950 and 2002. Earlier this month, defrocked priest Paul Shanley was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison for raping a boy in the 1980s.

The bishops have already authorized a third national audit.

The Catholic Church last year paid $157.8 million in settlements, legal fees and victim and offender therapy, and another $20.2 million for child protection efforts, Miss McChesney said.

Highlights of the report are:

• The bulk of the new 1,092 abuseaccusations began or occurred in the 1960s and 1970s; fewer than 20 occurred since 2000.

• Seventy-eight percent of the victims were male. Most were between the age of 10 and 14 when the abuse began.

• Of the offenders, 550, or 72 percent, were either dead, defrocked or removed from public ministry before the newest accusations were received.

The seven dioceses that failed to pass all the standards in 2004 were those in Burlington, Vt.; Fresno, Calif.; Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va.; and Youngstown, Ohio; as well as the Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian Catholics in New York, Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in El Cajon, Calif.; and Eparchy of Newton, Mass., Melkite-Greek Catholic.

The Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., was not included in the list because the bishop did not participate in the process.

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