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Settling Sexual Abuse Cases Costs Jersey Dioceses $12.8M

Mar 1, 2004 | The Jersey Journal Sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy in New Jersey has cost the state's five major dioceses $12.8 million in legal settlements and counseling for victims, church officials said in information made public over the last week.

The dioceses of Camden, Metuchen, Paterson and Trenton and the Archdiocese of Newark have all told their parishioners through church-run newspapers about the statistics they submitted for a national report commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to try to quantify the scope of sexual abuse by clergy.

The dioceses reviewed the files of 7,698 priests, seminarians and deacons who worked in New Jersey between 1950 and 2002 and found that 149 or 1.9 percent - had been the subject of what church officials deemed to be credible accusations of sexual abuse.

Most of the nation's 195 dioceses reported their findings to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the national tally.

That survey, released yesterday, found that 4,392 clerics or about 4 percent of the 109,694 working in the United States during that time had faced credible abuse accusations.

The national cost of lawsuit settlements and services to victims was $572 million, a number that did not include some recent settlements, including one for $85 million in Boston last year.

Though the scandal and allegations of church cover-ups have been major news over the past two years or so, officials at the New Jersey churches emphasized that almost all the alleged abuse took place more than 20 years ago.

"There has been a marked decline in allegations over the last decade, in part due to the preventive measures put into place by most dioceses, including Camden, in the early 1990s," said Andrew J. Walton, a spokesman for the Camden Diocese.

Camden has had some of the state's highest-profile abuse cases, largely because of a 1994 lawsuit that was settled last year for $880,000.

In the lawsuit, 23 plaintiffs claimed they had been abused by clergy between the 1960s and the 1980s.

But that settlement amounts to only a portion of the $5.7 million the Camden Diocese says it has paid victims in legal settlements.

Additionally, the diocese says it has paid more than $450,000 for counseling and other services for the victims.

The most recent charge of abuse deemed credible by officials in the Camden Diocese was for alleged misconduct in 1995. That priest, since removed from the clergy, James Hopkins was arrested last year at his home in Stuart, Fla., and charged with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

While Camden had the highest cost, Paterson had the highest portion of clergy facing accusations 30 out of 737, or more than 4 percent.

The Newark Archdiocese reported credible accusations against 51 clerics, or 1.6 percent of its priests and deacons.

The archdiocese had closely guarded its numbers until this week. Archbishop John J. Myers said he wanted to wait until the national numbers were released in order to place the local numbers in proper context.

"I regret that it has taken so long, but I felt most strongly that it was critical for everyone victims, those accused and you to receive accurate information about any incidents that have occurred here in the Archdiocese over the years," Myers wrote in this week's edition of the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Advocate.

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