Thursday, February 26, 2004

Four percent of the about 110,000 men who served as priests from 1950 to 2003 were involved in the sexual-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church — three percentage points higher than originally cited by church officials, says a study to be released by U.S. Catholic leaders at the National Press Club today.

The sexual-abuse crisis involved about 4,400 priests and 11,000 children, according to diocesan reports compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The diocese of Yakima, Wash., last night said in a news release that 4,392 of the 109,694 clergy who served over that five-decade period were accused of abuse.

No conclusive study exists chronicling the total number of pedophiles in America.

Detractors say, however, that the findings should be broken down by diocese and that the names of the offending priests should be reported. To date, only three out of 194 dioceses, Tucson, Los Angeles and Baltimore, have released names.

“The numbers are based on a voluntary self survey the bishops themselves filled out,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). “Common sense and prudence tell us to be skeptical of these numbers.”

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice will release the number of accused priests and victims, the amounts of money paid out by dioceses to victims and the age and sex of the victims. A lay review board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will release a report on the culture of the Catholic Church during the 53-year span of the study, from 1950 to 2003.

More than 100 dioceses have released statistics on the number of priests involved, including the Diocese of Arlington, which declined to name the clerics “out of respect for the privacy and reputations of the victims involved,” USCCB spokesman Soren Johnson said.

“Children’s lives are at risk,” responded Mark Serrano, a SNAP spokesman in Leesburg. “That’s why [Arlington] Bishop [Paul] Loverde must do much more, such as releasing the names of those credibly accused and releasing their files.”

The diocese said it has spent $55,000 on victim counseling and settlements, and another $100,000 in legal fees for 11 victims abused by nine priests. Of the priests, two are dead, one was exonerated and one is retired.

The diocese gives little or no details about the five remaining priests, except that they are not in active ministry nor are they permitted to wear clerical garb. One, it says, was convicted of a crime and tried in Henrico County, which was part of the diocese the state was partitioned into two dioceses in 1974.

However, Mike Huberman, deputy commonwealth attorney for Henrico County, has no records of a priest accused and tried there for sexual-abuse charges and said none of the personnel in his office can recall such a case.

The diocese refused to supply the priest’s name to allow the county to verify the conviction through its records.

“What does the Arlington diocese have to hide?” Mr. Serrano asked. “Sadly, they are still focused on protecting the reputation of sex offenders.”

Fran Tannenbaum, a lawyer for Weiner and Associates in Fairfax who is overseeing John Doe v. the Rev. Thomas Summers, an abuse case against the Diocese of Richmond, guessed that there are many more than 11 victims in the Arlington diocese.

“Based on the calls we get in our office, the numbers in the [Arlington] diocese are at least double,” she said. “We’ve got at least a half-dozen calls in the past three weeks from people who tell me they are victims of priests who cannot sue for some reason.

“People don’t want to come forward about something that’s very embarrassing. It’s explicit sexual activity, and photographs get taken. People have a lot of guilt about this stuff.”

The Archdiocese of Washington said in November that 26 of its priests had been accused of sexual abuse and that the diocese has spent $4.6 million compensating the victims. None of the 26 priests, it said, is still in active ministry.

However, on Jan. 6, the Washington law firm Greenberg Traurig, which helped win an $85 million sex-abuse settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston, told the Washington Archdiocese that many more victims were waiting to come forward, and demanded archdiocesan officials meet with a set of eight demands.

A lawyer for the firm said Greenberg Traurig is continuing its investigation.

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