U.S. Catholic Church reports big rise in sex-abuse allegations
New York – Quantifying its vast sex-abuse crisis, the U.S. Roman Catholic Church said Friday that allegations of child sex abuse by clerics more than doubled in its latest 12-month reporting period, and that its spending on victim compensation and child protection surged above $300 million.
During the period from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, 1,385 adults came forward with 1,455 allegations of abuse, according to the annual report of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection. That was up from 693 allegations in the previous year. The report attributed much of the increase to a victim compensation program implemented in five dioceses in New York state.
According to the report, Catholic dioceses and religious orders spent $301.6 million during the reporting period on payments to victims, legal fees and child-protection efforts. That was up 14% from the previous year and double the amount spent in the 2014 fiscal year.
The number of allegations is likely to rise further during the current fiscal year, given that Catholic dioceses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have started large compensation programs in the wake of a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August. The grand jury identified more than 300 priests in six of the state’s dioceses who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse committed over many decades.
Since then, attorneys general in numerous states have set up abuse hotlines and launched investigations, and a growing number of dioceses and Catholic religious orders have released names of priests accused of abuse.
“Victims are coming forward now because of real progress by secular authorities,” said the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Lawmakers are increasingly getting rid of archaic, predator-friendly laws and 16 attorneys general have launched investigations, so many victims are feeling hopeful.”
The advocacy group urged officials in every diocese to turn over sex abuse records to their state attorney general for investigation. The group also said church staff should be instructed to report suspected abuse to secular law enforcement before filing a report internally.
According to a survey included in the new annual report, more than 90% of the alleged abusers were already dead or removed from the ministry. Most of the reported abuse occurred between 1960 and 1990, with a peak in the 1970s.
Compilation of the annual report entails an audit of Catholic dioceses across the U.S. to assess their compliance with a 2002 charter outlining the church’s child-protection policies. Only one diocese, based in Lincoln, Nebraska, was found noncompliant due to lack of transparency in public communications about child sex abuse cases.
Members of the audit team made on-site visits to more than one-third of the 196 U.S. dioceses and found shortcomings in 14% of them that will warrant follow-up visits. Among the problems detected were poor record-keeping of background-check data, and allowing some clergy, staff and volunteers to have contact with children without undergoing training or background checks.
The findings were evidence of “complacency and lack of diligence on the part of some dioceses,” said a letter included in the report from Francesco Cesareo, who chairs a review board created by the bishops in 2002 to monitor sex abuse prevention efforts.
Referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the abuse allegations that led to the defrocking of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick , Cesareo said the events “have led to both frustration and anger among the faithful in the Church, a loss of the credibility of the hierarchy, and a questioning of the efficacy of the audit itself.”
The introductory section of the annual report said the McCarrick scandal and the grand jury report helped turn complacency into urgency, and it commended some of the steps taken in response.
“While it is unfortunate that it took such grave sins and crimes to spur action, as Catholics, we are grateful that God can bring good out of such evils,” the report said. “However, there remains work to be done.”
Specifically, the report urged new steps to address the accountability of bishops engaged in abuse or cover-ups, as well as increased involvement of lay experts in investigating abuse allegations.
Those issues are expected to be discussed at the bishops’ upcoming national meeting in Baltimore starting June 11.