Costs soar for abuse-related church expenses

Rachel Zoll Associated Press Mar. 31, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - Researchers have analyzed 50 years of clergy sex-abuse claims for the nation's Roman Catholic bishops and concluded that the number of new molestation cases has been declining for years.

The problem is, there seems to be no end to the damage that the old cases are causing.

Dioceses last year received 783 credible abuse claims, most of which date back decades: The total number of accusations against Catholic clergy now stands at more than 12,000 since 1950.

On the financial front, abuse-related church expenses in 2005 were likely the largest ever for a single year, nearly $467 million, according to Teresa Kettelkamp, director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. The abuse problem was already known to have cost dioceses more than $1 billion since 1950, including some expenses paid last year.

Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, talked of "the power of this crisis" as he released the statistics Thursday. He called the experience "humbling."

Skylstad, of Spokane, Wash., has been accused of sexually abusing a woman decades ago, and is leading a diocese that filed for bankruptcy in response to abuse lawsuits. He denies the claim against him.

The new figures were part of the third audit U.S. bishops commissioned to restore trust in their leadership after abuse allegations soared in 2002. Auditors found 88.5 percent of dioceses had put in place safeguards for children required by the bishops' reforms.

Still, advocates for victims called the audit inadequate, since 104 of the 195 American dioceses conducted a "self-audit." In previous years, teams from the Gavin Group, a private firm led by former FBI Agent William Gavin, had conducted onsite audits in all participating dioceses.

In a companion report, researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who the bishops had hired to tally abuse claims nationwide from 1950-2002, released a new analysis of that data that found the number of new abuse cases peaked in the 1970s and 1980s and then began to decline.

In 2004, dioceses received more than 1,092 new abuse claims, in addition to the 10,667 claims the American church received from 1950-2002. However, just like the claims in 2005, most of the allegations involved incidents from decades ago.

The bishops' abuse prevention policy requires dioceses to hire victim assistance coordinators, form review boards to help evaluate abuse claims, conduct background checks on staff and teach children to protect themselves.

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