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Correction to This Article
A Feb. 19 article on child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests incorrectly said that the peak year for allegations of such abuse was 2001. The peak was in 2002, when more than 3,300 allegations were made. Church authorities have not reported numbers of allegations made in subsequent years.

In 2004, 1,000 Alleged Abuse by Priests

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page A02

More than 1,000 people reported to civil or church authorities in 2004 that they had been sexually abused as children by Roman Catholic priests, the second-largest number of allegations for any year on record, the U.S. bishops' conference said yesterday.

During 2004, the church spent $157 million on legal settlements and other costs related to sex abuse. It received allegations against 756 priests and deacons, half of whom had previously been named in similar accusations. It temporarily removed more than 300 clergy members and permanently defrocked 148, church officials said.

Kathleen L. McChesney, head of the Catholic Church's child protection office, and Bishop William S. Skylstad present a report on sexual abuse cases. (Adele Starr -- AP)

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The new statistics, which appeared in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' second annual report on the sexual abuse crisis in the church, showed the heavy toll that the four-year-old crisis continues to take on the church's finances, its clergy and the trust of its laity.

The figures released yesterday bring the total number of alleged victims since 1950 to 11,750, the number of accused priests to 5,148, and the church's expenses to more than $840 million. Three dioceses have declared bankruptcy.

But the 2004 figures do not fundamentally alter the patterns found last year in a major study of sexual abuse in the church from 1950 to 2002. As in the past, about 80 percent of the 1,083 victims who came forward in 2004 are male, and the majority said they were between the ages of 10 and 14 when the abuse began. Most of the alleged incidents took place in the 1960s and '70s.

Also as they have in the past, victims' advocates and church officials disagreed on how to interpret the figures. Kathleen L. McChesney, a former FBI official who is leaving this month as head of the church's Office of Child and Youth Protection, said at a news conference that 22 incidents, or 2 percent of all the allegations reported last year, were fresh cases involving abuse of minors that occurred in the previous 12 months. She hailed that as evidence that the number of new cases "is declining."

David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the support group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told reporters outside the church's news conference that 22 fresh incidents is hardly "cause for joy." In fact, he said, it is probably just a small fraction of the true number, because last year's major study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that child victims typically suffer in silence for 20 to 30 years before reporting clergy abuse.

Interpretation of the statistics was also complicated by a lack of data for 2003. That is because the John Jay study compiled statistics for each year from 1950 to 2002. Then the bishops voted to update the study annually beginning in 2004.

The peak number of allegations reported in any prior year on record was in 2001, when the abuse scandal erupted in Boston. More than 3,300 alleged victims came forward that year. In 2002, the number of allegations dropped to about 750, about the same number that was reported annually in the mid-1990s.

McChesney also said yesterday that 96 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses were found in a second annual round of audits to be fully in compliance with the sex abuse policy, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and adopted by the bishops in Dallas three years ago. The archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and the dioceses of Richmond and Arlington were among those in compliance.

McChesney said the church spent $20 million in 2004 on efforts to prevent sex abuse, including police background checks on 32,073 priests and more than 750,000 lay people who work with children in Catholic schools and parishes.

Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of the Survivors Network, said that the audits are largely irrelevant because they focus on whether each diocese has strict policies in place, rather than determining how well the policies are carried out.

"Every diocese in America last year was cited, even praised, by auditors for three examples of ineffective steps: employee codes of conduct, formal communication plans and having a point person to take incoming abuse allegations," Blaine said. "Is there one priest who molested one girl because he'd never read an employee code of conduct telling him child rape is wrong?"

Blaine and other advocates said the most effective step bishops could take would be to release the names of all priests who face credible allegations, which has been done in fewer than a dozen dioceses.

They also accuse some bishops of trying to evade the core promise in the Dallas Charter, which required permanent removal of any priest who has committed sexual abuse involving a minor. According to the report, at least 42 priests "remain in active ministry pending a preliminary investigation" of abuse charges.

McChesney acknowledged that the church has no policy on how long a preliminary investigation should take or how it should proceed. "Many victims/survivors, accused clergy, review board members, and the laity remain confused about the exact procedures that are to be followed," the report said.

The president of the U.S. bishops' conference, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said he would not "second-guess the decisions of individual bishops" but that, in his opinion, "if there is a credible allegation of abuse, the priests [should be] immediately removed."

The figures on abuse allegations released yesterday included no breakdowns by diocese and no names of priests or victims. More than 90 percent of all U.S. dioceses voluntarily reported their abuse statistics for 2004, but 71 percent of the 158 Catholic religious orders in the country, such as Jesuits and Franciscans, provided their data.

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