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Cheyenne Diocese: 14 Sex Abuse Cases In 53 Years

Feb 2, 2004 | AP

Fourteen "credible" allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors were lodged against nine Roman Catholic priests in Wyoming over the past 53 years, Bishop David Ricken said Monday, citing results of an internal investigation.

None of the priests is still a member of the clergy or in active ministry.

Since 1950, $55,700 has been expended for counseling and assisting victims and to pay their legal fees, according to the probe. Insurance paid $44,800, while the rest, $10,900, came from diocesan resources.

The Diocese of Cheyenne, which guides the church's activities in Wyoming, released the findings of its audit in advance of a confidential survey of the nation's 195 dioceses.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is an attempt to tally every church abuse case in the country since 1950 and develop safeguards to prevent sexual abuse.

Ricken held a news conference in the diocesan offices to outline the findings. Names of victims and priests were not released, and no criminal charges were filed against any priest, he said.

"In my estimation, even one of these abuses is one too many. Unfortunately, we have had several in our diocese over the past 53 years," Ricken said, quoting from a letter that will be published in the Wyoming Catholic Register and mailed to each Catholic family in the state. There are about 50,000 Catholics in Wyoming.

"I apologize to all those who have been victimized, either directly or indirectly, by priests who have abused children," he said. "I am very aware of the devastation that has been wrought by this terrible problem - for victims, for priests, and for all Catholics.

"I remain committed to healing these wounds and to do whatever is necessary to see that this does not happen again."

Ricken said the Diocese of Cheyenne has been proactive in dealing with such cases, and in 1994, published its first sexual misconduct policy. It was updated as recently as December 2003.

Background checks have been ordered for all clergy, employees and volunteers who have regular contact with children, the elderly or finances, he said, adding that more than 4,000 checks have been completed.

In addition, a Safe Environment Program has been presented to students who attend Catholic schools, and clergy, teachers, diocesan and parish staff and volunteers have undergone training aimed at preventing abuse.

Ricken said 19 allegations of misconduct involving minors were reported to diocesan leaders from 1950 to 2003, but five were without foundation.

Seven of the nine priests involved were diocesan and the other two were on temporary assignment in Wyoming.

Of the 14 allegations deemed credible, three occurred in the 1950s, three in the 1960s, four in the 1970s, three in the 1980s and one in 2003.

The priests involved have resigned from the priesthood, are no longer members of the clergy or in active ministry, or are dead, Ricken said.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City is conducting the study for the church, which includes the period from 1950 to 2002. The Diocese of Cheyenne went a step further and included 2003 in its audit.

Nationwide, more than 325 of the nation's 46,000 clergy have either resigned or have been barred from church work since the child sexual abuse crisis erupted two years ago in Boston, then spread nationwide.

The John Jay report is to be released Feb. 27. The Cheyenne diocese joined others around the country in releasing information before results of the nationwide study are made public.

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