Signs of the Times

Dioceses Release Figures on Sexual Abuse

Although not required to do so by the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Catholic bishops across the country are releasing statistics about sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy in their dioceses. The Associated Press reported on Feb. 20 that at least 112 of the 195 U.S. dioceses had reported 4,757 accusations against 2,243 men. Many bishops included financial data about abuse-related costs and the percentage of clergy in their dioceses who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many offered apologies to victims, their families and the general Catholic population for the harm caused by the abuse scandal.

The figures were submitted by the dioceses to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which compiled the national statistics on sexual abuse of minors over the past 50 years for the National Review Board, which commissioned the study under a mandate from the bishops.


The Diocese of Covington, Ky., reported on Feb. 18 that 9.6 percent of its clergy had been accused of sexual misconduct with minors. The percentage is much higher than what other dioceses were reporting. The Covington figures were an update of data published on August 2003. The updated figures said that 205 allegations against 35 priests were received. One priest was named in 72 allegations, it added. Of the 35 priests accused, 16 are dead, five were laicized and 14 were permanently removed from ministry, said the report. All the allegations involved incidents before 1990.

The diocese reported paying $11.7 million in settlements, with $3.8 million coming from diocesan funds and the rest from insurers. Total expenses related to the sexual abuse scandal were $14.3 million, with $4.9 million paid by the diocese and the rest by insurers.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., reported that since the diocese was founded in 1957, 132 people have accused 66 priests of sexually abusing them as minors. Of the 42 diocesan priests, four were exonerated; and those with credible accusations are no longer in ministry. The accused clerics represent 2 percent of the clergy in the diocese during the period, said the report. The diocese has spent $3.8 million in abuse-related expenses, said the report. Most of the incidents took place in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, it said, with 15 percent of the cases occurring since 1990.

"I apologize again because I know that, as a Catholic bishop in the United States, I will go to my grave with the knowledge that I can never make up or restore to the victims the innocence lost and suffering experienced day in and day out by those who were victimized as well as their families," said Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in a nine-page statement containing the data issued on Feb. 17.

In the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., 6 percent of the priests who have served in the diocese since it was founded in 1956 have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor. The accusations involved 27 priests who are no longer in active ministry. One-third of the allegations concerned incidents in the 1980’s, it said. The report added that the diocese paid $1 million in therapy costs, $200,000 in settlements and $300,000 in legal fees.

The Diocese of Springfield, Mass., reported credible accusations against 22 priests involving 70 minors. About one-third of confirmed cases took place between 1965 and 1970, it said. The Springfield report ended with allegations received through last May and so did not include accusations made in February against recently retired Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, who allegedly abused two boys, starting in the 1970’s and continuing into the 1980’s before he became bishop.

The Diocese of Paterson, N.J., said that there were credible accusations against 31 of its priests, representing 4.2 percent of the total serving in the diocese. Abuse-related costs totaled $2.8 million, it said.

The Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., reported receiving 59 allegations against 35 priests, about 4.5 percent of the clergy. Abuse-related costs totaled $1.4 million, of which $1.1 million was paid by insurers, it said.

In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., 35 complaints were lodged against 20 priests since 1948, with five of the priests being exonerated. Abuse-related expenses totaled $856,000 with the money coming from diocesan insurance reserves, said the diocese.

The Diocese of Greensburg, Pa., said that it received 11 substantiated allegations and 10 unsubstantiated allegations against diocesan priests since 1951. The 11 priests with substantiated allegations represent 3.2 percent of the diocesan clergy during the time period and are no longer in ministry, it reported.

Supreme Court Upholds Denial of Scholarship

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the State of Washington could deny scholarship funds to a student who wanted to study for the ministry, even if it was giving scholarships to students to study other subjects. The 7-to-2 majority did not accept the argument that such a denial was an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of religion. The state does not require students to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a government benefit, wrote Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for the majority. The state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction.

Washington State grants scholarships based on academic merit and financial need to students who attend an accredited college, including those that are religiously affiliated. But it excludes scholarships to study for the ministry. The court decision overruled an earlier decision in favor of the student by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in California.

Delivery of Aid Threatened by Unrest in Haiti

Catholic Relief Services said food supplies at its centers in Haiti are running low and deliveries of fresh supplies are threatened by current unrest. C.R.S., the U.S. bishops’ international relief and development agency, warned that a humanitarian crisis could occur in Haiti if commercial and aid supply lines continued to be affected. Dula James, C.R.S. country representative in Haiti, said supplies at hundreds of centers supported by C.R.S. were running low.

The situation is critical, James said on Feb. 18. That day, C.R.S. began delivering several thousand metric tons of food and cooking supplies. But the volatile environmentincluding spontaneous street protests, roadblocks and general social unrestcould threaten the delivery, which would affect hundreds of thousands of people who depend solely on C.R.S. food aid for survival, the agency said. C.R.S. said roadblocks manned by gunmen have made it difficult for supplies and humanitarian assistance to reach these areas.

In a statement on Feb. 16, the Haitian bishops called on political leaders to do what they could to ensure peace. In contrast to recent calls by Bishop Guire Poulard of Jacmel that the opposition should continue its mobilization to force President Bertrand Aristide to step down, the bishops’ statement did not overtly call for the president’s resignation. It is not for the church to say which actions should be undertaken, but it is urgent that something should be done to stop the violence, the statement said.

News Briefs

Five days before President Bush called for a federal constitutional amendment defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife, Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco sent him a letter strongly urging such an amendment. "[O]nly a constitutional amendment can now assure that marriage between a woman and a man, and the family they raise, can remain into the future a foundational element of our society," he wrote.

Since the mid-1990’s, in an effort to practice what they preach about social justice, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., have asked prospective vendors of school uniforms to certify that the clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions. The effort spread to the Philadelphia and Chicago archdioceses and then to eight dioceses in New York.

A consortium including Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Medical Mission Board was awarded one of the first federal grants in a new campaign to provide care and support for people with H.I.V./AIDS in nine foreign countries. The $335 million grant, announced on Feb. 23, will finance a five-year program through which the five-member consortium will provide drug treatment and other support for 137,600 people with H.I.V./AIDS.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged the State Department to add Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam to its list of countries that should be given the harshest designation for violations of religious freedom. Already on the list are Burma (Myanmar), China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Sudan.

Archbishop James P. Keleher of Kansas City has asked all Catholic institutions in the archdiocese not to invite any person in the pro-choice movement, or any politician who espouses the pro-choice movement or has a voting record endorsing pro-choice legislation to speak at those institutions.

Pope John Paul II condemned a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed eight passengers on a Jerusalem bus and injured 60 others. A telegram sent in the pope’s name urged rejection of the absurd dynamic of terrorist violence.

The U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting faulted Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for its in-your-face rawness that is much too intense for children, but dismissed charges that the movie blames the Jews collectively for the death of Jesus.

An article and a review about The Passion of the Christ scheduled to appear in the March 15 issue of America are now available online at

In mid-March, Pope John Paul II’s pontificate will become the third-longest in history, surpassing that of Pope Leo XIII, who reigned for 25 years and five months a century ago. Among modern pontificates, that will leave only the 31-year reign of Pope Pius IX longer than Pope John Paul’s.

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