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Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Dioceses Release Priest Abuse Statistics

Feb 26, 2004 | AP

Roman Catholic dioceses in the state's two largest cities released information Thursday about the number of priests accused of sexual abuse, a day before a national audit of every diocese in the country is to be made public.

In Pittsburgh, 51 of the 2,280 priests who served in the diocese over the last five decades were accused of abuse, including six who were found to have been falsely accused, the diocese said. Excluding those, the 45 priests accused of abuse represent 1.9 percent of the 2,349 priests and deacons who have served in the diocese from 1950 to 2002, church officials said. Of the 45, all have either died, been removed from active ministry or withdrawn from the priesthood, according to the diocese.

The diocese reported it had paid $841,000 from its own diocesan insurance fund to assist victims during that time, and an additional $1.2 million was paid by the diocese's insurance carriers. All the money went toward paying legal settlements, counseling and other things, though the diocese didn't specify exact amounts for specific categories.

"We will continue to reach out to any victims of abuse, encouraging any of those hurt in this way to seek healing and reconciliation through counseling, treatment and prayer," Bishop Donald Wuerl said.

In Philadelphia, allegations against 44 priests between 1950 and 2003 were found to be credible 2 percent of the 2,204 priests that served during that time, the archdiocese said.

Cardinal Justin Rigali said the archdiocese is now providing 41 sex abuse victims with counseling, which the church has spent an average of $125,000 on between 1994 and 2003.

"With profound sorrow, I offer deep apologies to the victims of sexual abuse by any cleric or church employee," Rigali said in a written statement.

Richard Serbin, an attorney representing abuse victims, said the numbers mean very little.

"I don't look at shear numbers because I'm dealing with people and from their perspective their lives have been tragically altered by the sexual abuse they've suffered as children," he said. He encouraged the dioceses to not only release numbers, but names of priests who have been accused.

The dioceses released the numbers in anticipation of a report due Friday by the New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was commissioned by the National Review Board. The lay panel was picked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops to review allegations of priest sex abuse of minors, and the report will have abuse statistics from the 195 U.S. dioceses.

"Though we know that the John Jay Study is unique and that there is no study to compare it with from any other group in the country, we requested this study to make certain that this terrible tragedy will not happen again," Wuerl said in a statement.

Serbin, who has cases pending against the Pittsburgh, Altoona-Johnstown, Allentown and Philadelphia dioceses, said he believes the numbers don't tell the whole story. Most pedophiles don't just molest one child, but have a pattern of abuse and many victims, he said.

"The very people that have hid the scope and depth of this problem for decades are the ones that are producing the numbers," Serbin said.

In Pittsburgh, the diocese reported 95 people had accused the priests of abuse over the past five decades; Serbin believes those numbers are inaccurate because most victims don't come forward.

The diocese of Pittsburgh consists of 816,000 Roman Catholics in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties. The Philadelphia archdiocese is made up of 1.4 million Catholics in Philadelphia and Delaware, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery counties.

All eight dioceses in Pennsylvania have released or are planning to release their statistics that are included in the John Jay report. The diocese of Allentown, Altoona-Johnstown, Greensburg and Harrisburg have already released their reports; the Erie and Scranton dioceses have said they will release theirs Friday in conjunction with the release of the national report.


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