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Archive for Saturday, February 21, 2004

Sex abuse study challenges church theories

February 21, 2004

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Next week's release of a nationwide survey on sex abuse among Roman Catholic clergy seems almost guaranteed to hand the church more bad news.

Not only do the raw numbers look higher than anticipated, but the survey will disappoint those seeking proof that molestation among priests is no worse than it is in the rest of society. Yet the leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Friday the survey had to be done so the church could move beyond the abuse crisis.

"I'm not afraid," said Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill. "We need this information to make sure that the steps we have taken thus far are adequate to the problem. We need to know the truth."

A draft of the survey viewed by CNN said 4,450 of the 110,000 U.S. clergy who served since 1950 were accused of molesting minors. That would mean roughly 4 percent had been accused of abuse, although not all the claims are likely to be deemed credible in the final report, due out next Friday.

Many church officials have insisted the problem was less widespread.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, told Catholic News Service in December 2002, that "less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type."

When researchers made higher estimates in the past, many in the church dismissed them as sensational. Psychologist Richard Sipe, a former monk who researches sexuality in the priesthood, put the figure between 4 percent and 5 percent. The Rev. Andrew Greeley, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, had a similar estimate of offenders.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York was commissioned to conduct the survey based on statistics provided by individual dioceses -- some of which have already released their figures.

The Associated Press has been tracking those numbers and, as of Friday, 112 of the 195 U.S. dioceses reported accusations against 2,258 clergy. The tally of abuse claims is 4,757 so far, already higher than any previous estimate by victims' groups. Some archdioceses that faced large numbers of cases, including Boston and Louisville, have yet to report.

In addition to the statistical report, the lay watchdog panel bishops formed to oversee the survey -- the National Review Board -- has conducted its own investigation into the causes of the crisis.

Experts recognize that no other denomination or profession has opened itself to such scrutiny on the abuse issue, even though child molestation is an acknowledged problem among teachers, coaches and other religious groups. Bishops said they wanted to demonstrate their willingness to confront wrongdoing.

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