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  Home :: 2006 December :: The Catholic Church faces new steps in dealing with scandal
The Catholic Church faces new steps in dealing with scandal

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will gather June 16-18, 2005, in Chicago to consider important steps in the hierarchy's ongoing reaction to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The chief task is to revise and finalize the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" that the bishops first passed three years ago in Dallas. The bishops are expected to retain the "zero-tolerance" provision.

The bishops also will decide whether to spend up to $1 million on an in-depth study of causes and context behind the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

But several other recent developments also could influence the crisis and the Catholic priesthood. Most prominent is Pope Benedict XVI's election and the selection of an American archbishop to succeed him at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other elements that will make for timely stories include an expected Vatican review of American seminaries, a possible Vatican document on homosexuals in the priesthood, the oversight of local diocesan abuse policies and the continuing legal and financial troubles in many U.S. dioceses.

Why it Matters
The clergy sexual abuse scandal is considered the biggest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in America. Catholics remain the largest single U.S. denomination by far, with about 65 million baptized members, nearly one-quarter of the population. The scandal also has implications for other denominations and faiths and has affected how pastors are trained and how they conduct their ministry. Moreover, the scandal has led to an unprecedented review of sexual abuse laws and prevention policies across the country - impacting a range of professions and institutions where adults oversee children.

Questions for reporters
Where does your local diocese compare nationally in terms of abuse cases, financial payouts and policies? How about what the national standards mandate? Will any changes to the charter and norms affect the diocese?
• Does your diocese have a seminary? What steps have officials there taken to cope with issues raised by the sexual abuse crisis? How are seminarians coping?
• Are priests in your diocese organized? Is there a priest senate or a presbyteral council? Are they affiliated with the National Federation of Priests' Councils? Do they feel they have a voice?
• The charter's section on clerics in religious orders has been rewritten to clarify the orders' internal autonomy while respecting a bishop's authority within his diocese. How many order priests work in your diocese? How well are they covered by diocesan policies?
• How effective is your diocesan review board? How does it compare with others around the country? Who is on the board? Are members' names made public? What are their views on the charter changes? On the process?
• Are lay groups like Voice of the Faithful active in your diocese? Are they allowed on church property or barred, as in some dioceses?

Jump to national sources


Several key developments in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis have recently occurred.

First was the Feb. 27, 2004, release of a survey on the cumulative toll of sexual abuse inflicted on children by priests during the past 50 years. The lay-led Office of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned experts from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to research most of the 194 U.S. dioceses.

The survey found that about 4 percent of U.S. priests ministering from 1950-2002 were accused of sex abuse with a minor - a total of nearly 4,400 clergy, almost all priests, accused of abusing more than 10,000 minors. Three-quarters of the incidents took place from 1960-1984. The report pegged related costs at $573 million, though that figure - along with the number of accusations and victims - has gone up significantly in the past year. (Catholic News Service maintains an archive of stories on the report.)

Also, the National Review Board, a lay panel set up by the bishops in 2002 to monitor church progress in the scandal, released its own report on underlying "causes and context."

In February 2005, the Office of Child and Youth Protection released its second annual audit detailing bishops' compliance with child protection policies they implemented in 2002. The office provided an update on abuse report numbers.

At their June 2005 meeting, the bishops are expected to vote to revise and finalize the charter and norms. Of equal importance, observers say, will be whether the bishops move ahead with a long-term independent study of causes and context, at a cost of up to $4 million. Experts say there is no other comparable study by any organization about how - and whether - the sexual abuse of children is related to celibacy, homosexuality and other sensitive issues being debated.

Several other recent developments also could influence the issue and the future of the Catholic priesthood.

As cardinal, Benedict headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican office that is final arbiter on matters related to clergy sexual abuse. Many victim advocates saw him as sympathetic to their position. His selection in May of San Francisco Archbishop William Levada as his successor at the CDF not only put an American in one of the church's most powerful posts, but also was seen as recognition that the Vatican needed an American's expertise. The CDF is dealing with a number of requests for canonical trials and laicizations of abusive priests. Yet many victim advocates who disapproved of Levada's approach and policies while in San Francisco criticized his appointment. There was also consternation among victims groups over the May 20, 2005, announcement that the Vatican had ended a probe into allegations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, accused of abusing several teenagers in one of the most high-profile cases in recent years.

A Vatican review of some 50 U.S. seminaries is expected to begin later in 2005. It likely will focus on admissions criteria and on issues of preparing candidates for a life of chastity. A Vatican document on homosexuals' suitability for priesthood reportedly has been in drafting stages for some time. But an April 13, 2005, CNS story says that document and others relating to psychological testing of priest candidates are "on hold."

Priest morale remains fragile. Vocations have not rebounded. Internal divisions in the priesthood often fall along generational lines. Priests also are concerned about their relationship with the hierarchy.

Anger among lay people at the bishops continues. Lay Catholics want more transparency and accountability.

The financial fallout continues, too. Latest tallies show U.S. dioceses and religious orders have paid out nearly $800 million in claims and judgments.
• In December 2004, the Spokane, Wash., diocese became the third in the United States - after Portland, Ore., and Tucson, Ariz. - to file for bankruptcy due to mounting sexual abuse claims. In March 2005, the Diocese of St. George's became Canada's first to go bankrupt.
• In January 2005, California's Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to 90 claimants in the largest sexual abuse settlement in history. The diocese also agreed to release personnel files of those accused of abuse.
• In May 2005, the Archdiocese of Boston announced it was considering reducing retirement benefits for priests to help it cope financially.

NOTE: While the bishops are meeting in Chicago, the Church in the 21st Century Initiative, sponsored by Boston College, will present a three-day conference, "The Roman Catholic Priesthood in the 21st Century." On June 21, 2005, the program will sponsor "The Second Annual Conference on Understanding the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis."

• Read the revised edition of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms that are the charter's canonical underpinnings.
• Read a May 12, 2005, CNS story, "Bishops to revise clergy sex abuse charter, norms."
• The bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection has links to the latest audits, broken down by diocese.
• See the February 2004 report "The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States," by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
• See a review of research on child sexual abuse, compiled by John Jay College.
• Read the February 2004 "Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States" by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. See the board's membership list.
• Read an analysis of the proposed revisions from the lay group Voice of the Faithful.
• The victims advocacy group maintains a database of alleged and convicted perpetrators. The group will merge its database with a list of 2,600 perpetrators maintained by Texas lawyer Sylvia Demarest, profiled in this October 2004 Dallas Morning News story.
• Sexual abuse by nuns is much more rare than abuse by male clergy, but it has gained attention in the media. An October 2004 Hartford Courant story discusses the issue, as does this November 2002 National Catholic Reporter article. A book by author Ashley Hill, Habits of Sin (Xlibris Corp., 2000), is a popular resource.
• Jump to previous ReligionLink editions on aspects such as diocesan bankruptcies, political fallout, the victims' movement and toughening state laws.

• Read a May 5, 2005, CNS story on the bishops' meeting agenda.
• Read a May 15, 2005, Boston Globe story, "U.S. bishops ask Vatican to retain abuse rules," which reports a key group recommends the church retain its policy of removing from ministry all sexually abusive priests.
• Read a Jan. 28, 2005, column by National Catholic Reporter correspondent John Allen on the charter and norms debate.
• Read an April 21, 2005, CNS story, "Former review board members say pope will help solve sex abuse crisis."
• Read a July 15, 2002, America magazine story, "Seminaries Await Vatican Visitation."
• Read an April 30, 2005, Associated Press story, "Vatican expected to review American seminaries," posted by USA Today.
• Read a CNS story, "Vatican officials plan U.S. seminary visitation in 2005," printed in the Dec. 17, 2004, edition of The Tidings.
• Read a March 2, 2004, CNS story on the Review Board's discussion of homosexuality in the priesthood.
• Read a March 1, 2004, CNS story on the Review Board's discussion of celibacy.
• Read a Dec. 7, 2004, CNS story, "Spokane becomes third U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy."
• Read a March 9, 2005, CNS story on the bankruptcy filing of the Diocese of St. George's in Canada.
• Read a Nov. 7, 2004, USA Today story, "Church struggles with change," reporting no significant link between $772 million in payouts on sexual abuse cases and the recent spate of parish closings and clergy shortages.
• Read a July 21, 2004, CNS story about a survey by James Davidson and Dean Hoge that found U.S. Catholics regard the scandal and the bishops' handling of it as two of the most serious problems facing the church.

• The Chicago-based National Federation of Priests' Councils is the leading voice for the nation's Catholic priests, representing some 26,000 of the nation's 43,000 priests. Contact the president, the Rev. Robert Silva, 312-226-3334 ext. 205,
• The Conference of Major Superiors of Men represents religious orders in the United States. Unlike diocesan priests, the 20,000 priests and brothers in religious orders - Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, etc. - generally live in communities and by their orders' rules. They are subject to local diocese mandates, but concerns have been raised about how to integrate the bishops' charter with the orders' historic autonomy. The conference is based in Silver Spring, Md. Contact the Rev. Bob Bozek, 301-588-4030,
• The Leadership Conference of Women Religious is an association of leaders of Catholic women religious in the United States and represents about 95 percent of the 75,000 U.S. nuns and sisters. While male clergy commit the vast majority of abuse cases, victims advocates say abuse by women religious is an overlooked problem. The LCWR is also based in Silver Spring, Md. Contact director of communications, Sister Annmarie Sanders, IHM, at 301-588-4955,
• SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the foremost advocacy group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP has regional directors and local support groups. Or you can contact Executive Director David Clohessy in St. Louis at 314-566-9790,, or President Barbara Blaine in Chicago at 312-409-2720,
• The Linkup, based in Louisville, Ky., is another leading victims advocacy group. It also has information on abuse cases from other denominations. Contact President Sue Archibald, 502-290-4055,
• Voice of the Faithful is the leading grass-roots lay organization to emerge in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. Based in Boston, the organization pushes for church governance reform and holding bishops accountable, and promotes victims rights. Contact Suzanne Morse, 617-680-2131,
• is a clearinghouse for information on sexual abuse by priests and on the hierarchy's reactions. Contact the group's co-founder, Paul Baier, 781-910-5467,
• Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities is a Washington-based organization that encourages Catholic giving. It pushes for greater transparency in church governance and accountability in church finances. Contact President Francis J. Butler, 202-223-3550,
• The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights critiques media coverage of the Catholic Church. The league produced its own report on clergy abuse. Contact 212-371-3191.
• Prevent Child Abuse America is a nonprofit advocacy group that has been operating nationally for 30 years to stop abuse. Contact Melissa Wiles, manager, public relations and advertising, 312-663-3520 ext. 846,
• The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States is a national, nonprofit organization that "develops, collects and disseminates information, promotes comprehensive education about sexuality and advocates the right of individuals to make responsible sexual choices." The organization has a range of data on sexual abuse and staff people who can interpret data. The council has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Contact Martha Kempner, director of public information in New York, 212-819-9770 ext. 324,
• The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect is part of the government's Department of Health and Human Services. It has reports on the extent of child abuse in the United States. Contact through your regional office.

Click the map for interview sources
in your state and region

• Dean Hoge is a professor of sociology at Catholic University of Americain Washington, D.C., and one of the foremost researchers on Catholic issues. JamesDavidson is a sociologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who specializesin the study of American Catholicism. They co-authored a 2004 study of AmericanCatholic attitudes. Contact Hoge at 202-319-5999, Davidson at 765-494-4688,
• Thomas Plante is a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University andan expert on the causes and frequency of sexual abuse by clergy. His writings include Sin against the Innocents: Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role ofthe Catholic Church (Greenwood Publishing, 2004). Contact 408-554-4471,
• Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, co-directsthe Trauma Treatment Center at the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis. Shemade national headlines when she gave an addresson clergy abuse to the bishops at their 2002 meeting in Dallas. She is co-authorof Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse (Basic Books,1994) and is working on a book about clergy abusers. Contact 845-352-6289,
• John Money is an emeritus professor of psychiatry at The Johns HopkinsHospital in Baltimore and a leading authority on the sexual abuse of children.Money has argued that people raised in conditions where sex is viewed as evil,and where sexual curiosity is considered a punishable offense, are likely to endup with warped sexual identities. He contends that those surroundings are oftenproduced by conservative religious teachings. Contact 410-955-3740,
• The Rev. Marie Fortune is a United Church of Christ minister and founderof the Center for the Preventionof Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle, now known as the FaithTrust Institute.A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she is a nationally known expert and educatoron issues of clergy abuse, its causes and policies for prevention. She also editsthe Journalof Religion and Abuse. Contact 206-634-1903, FaithTrust Institute was founded in 1977 and has a staff of experts.
• PhilipJenkins is a professor of history and religious studies at Penn State Universityand author of a widely cited book, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a ContemporaryCrisis (Oxford University Press, 1996). Jenkins, an Episcopalian, argues thatthe number of priests involved in abusing minors is not as great as popularlybelieved and is less than many comparative populations. Contact 814-863-8946,
• Gary R. Schoener is a psychologist and executive director of the Walk-InCounseling Center in Minneapolis. Schoener has studied treatment centers forclergy and comments frequently on issues of sexual abuse by clerics. Contact 612-870-0565,
• David Finkelhor is a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshirein Durham, N.H., and a leading expert on the sexual abuse of children. He is theauthor of several books on child sexual abuse and directs the CrimesAgainst Children Research Center. Contact 603-862-2761,


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia