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Diocese Releases Report On Past Sexual Abuse of Minors

Nov 17, 2003 | Springfield Catholic Times Since 1950, the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has received 43 credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against 14 diocesan priests, according to a report released by Bishop George J. Lucas. None of the priests involved remain in public ministry; the majority are deceased.

The information was gathered as part of the diocesan response to a survey conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. At their June 2002 meeting in Dallas, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for an impartial survey to determine the nature and scope of known sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

The results of the national study, covering U.S. Catholic dioceses during the period between 1950 and 2003, are scheduled for release in the second week of February 2004.

"We regret that any child or young person was ever abused by someone working in the name of the church, especially by clergy," said Bishop Lucas. "We are committed to communicating the truth about what has happened over the past 53 years here in our diocese. We hope that this report will in some way aid in the process of healing for anyone who has been harmed by the sexual abuse of a minor."

The 14 priests identified in the report represent 3.29 percent of the approximately 425 diocesan priests who served in the Springfield diocese since 1950.

The diocese is also aware of five allegations during those years against three priests belonging to religious orders who were serving in the diocese. For the purposes of the national study, those cases will be included in statistics collected by the relevant religious communities.

The report also showed that, although victims of past abuse have come forward in recent years, there have been no credible reports of abuse occurring since 1987. In the one instance of an allegation of misconduct during the past 16 years, the priest involved was cleared of the charges after an investigation by the Illinois State Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

During the past 53 years, the diocese has paid approximately $1.7 million in settlements to victims and provided an additional $120,000 for medical expenses such as professional counseling. About $315,000 was paid in attorney fees. Of these amounts, over $1.1 million of the settlements and $51,000 of the legal fees was paid by insurance.

In 1994, the diocese released its Pastoral Policy on Sexual Misconduct with Minors by Church Personnel. It unequivocally prohibited sexual abuse of minors and said that those who had knowledge of such acts had a strong "moral obligation" to report them and to cooperate with civil authorities in investigating such acts.

In June 2003, the policy was revised in response to the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the accompanying legal norms. The diocesan Policy on Working with Minors, also released last June, establishes a code of conduct and standards of behavior for persons working with children and young people.

The diocese also requires that anyone who has significant contact with minors through diocesan churches, schools and other institutions undergo a criminal background check and participate in Protecting God's Children, a safe environment program designed to heighten awareness of the dangers of child sexual abuse.

"I want to stress again that our diocese is committed to the protection of children and young people," Bishop Lucas said. "We promise to receive any allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor respectfully and to investigate them thoroughly. I remain committed - and our policy provides the means to keep from active ministry any member of the clergy who is guilty of even one instance of sexual abuse of a minor."

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