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Clergy Abuse Payouts Top $500 Million

Feb 17, 2004 | Chicago Sun Tribune

An upcoming national report on the scope of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy will reveal that the church in the United States has spent more than $500 million to settle such cases between 1950 and 2002, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The draft of the report, a final version of which is expected to be released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops later this month, also says that 11,000 victims made allegations of sexual misconduct against 4,450 priests in that same 52-year span, a source told the paper.

The 4,450 represent about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests who served the Roman Catholic Church in the United States between 1950 and 2002.

Advocates for victims of clergy abuse say the figures are far lower than what they believe is accurate.

"I would think $1 billion would be closer to it," said Jeffrey Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who has represented sex abuse victims in more than half of the Roman Catholic dioceses in the nation.

"If they're admitting to $500 million on their own self-report, how much is there really? I've been chasing these guys for 23 years and I haven't a clue," Anderson said. The prevalence of secret agreements and confidentiality clauses makes it virtually impossible for anyone besides the bishops themselves to know how much money has been spent to settle sex abuse claims, he said.

"We continue to feel that the numbers are underreported," said David Clohessy, national director of the support group Survivor's Network for those Abused by Priests. "Why would bishops who spent years fighting to keep this under wraps suddenly do a 180 and tell the truth?"

The draft version of the report says 78 percent of the children abused were between the ages of 11 and 17, the source said. Sixteen percent of the abused were between 8 and 10 years old.

About 6 percent of children abused were under the age of 7, the source said.

According to reports on CNN, which reviewed a copy of the draft version of the bishops' report, more than half of the accused clergymen had only one allegation of abuse against them, while 25 percent had three or more, and 13 percent had between four and nine allegations against them.

Three percent or 133 priests had 10 or more allegations against them, CNN reported.

"No reputable therapist would claim that molesters have only one victim, and that's the case in over half of these, allegedly," Clohessy said. "Common sense and history would tell us that probably all of the numbers are low."

Church leaders urged critics and the public at large to withhold judgement until the final report is released later this month.

"The release of this information is unfortunate," said Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, interim chairwoman of the National Review Board, a watchdog group of 13 prominent lay Catholics that is overseeing the sex abuse report for the Catholic bishops. "We do not have a copy of the report. This is not the final report. I cannot comment any further than that."

Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the Diocese of Belleville and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement declined to comment on the draft report, but said when the final report is released it "will be very sobering and an important milestone."

A spokeswoman for Chicago's Cardinal Francis George said, "We will not respond to a draft report and certainly not to a draft we haven't seen."

A year ago, officials of the Chicago archdiocese reported that it had spent $16.8 million since 1993 in legal fees, settlements, therapy bills and other costs related to allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Since 1993, the archdiocese reported 55 credible allegations of abuse against 36 priests, with some of the incidents dating back to the 1940s.

In the last year, the Chicago archdiocese has paid out another $14 million in settlements to 20 victims of abuse by a dozen priests.

The more than $30 million the Chicago archdiocese has paid in abuse settlements is dwarfed by the financial costs incurred by other dioceses. In Boston, where the worst abuse scandal in the history of the American church broke two years ago, the archdiocese has agreed to pay $90 million to more than 500 victims of clergy sexual abuse.

There are more than 500 claims of sexual abuse filed against priests in the Los Angeles archdiocese. Experts believe when they are settled, the costs could surpass even those of Boston.

The national report on the statistical scope numbers of victims, abusers and the financial cost of handling abuse allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and overseen by the National Review Board. The report will present national totals only and will not break down statistics by diocese.

A second report about the possible causes of the sexual abuse crisis written by the review board itself is expected to be released with the John Jay report on Feb. 27.


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