Originally published on February 28, 2004


Moral authority missing


Church sex abuse did immense damage

By Eric Convey


The country's Roman Catholic bishops said yesterday that one priest out of every two dozen - far more than church leaders had predicted - was accused of sexually molesting a minor at some point during the past five decades.


What is no longer debatable is the immense damage that has been done to the lives of thousands of innocent children,'' a group of victims of late Massachusetts priest Joseph Birmingham said in a statement after the numbers were released in Washington, D.C.


'Many victims' advocates questioned the accuracy of the figures, but U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops head Wilton Gregory said they were as accurate as possible.


''The terrible history recorded here today is history,'' he said.


Researchers from New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice who compiled the data found that:


Four out of five accusers were male.


More than half of accusers were between the ages 11 and 14 at the time of the molestation.


Settlements and related expenses cost the church at least $600 million.


More than half of alleged abusers had only one victim.


''It's pretty bad - worse than we could have imagined,'' said Thomas H. Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.


In an accompanying report, the National Review Board established by the bishops in 2002 offered a harsh assessment of church leaders' performance.


''There is absolutely no excuse for what happened in the Catholic church,'' said Robert Bennett, a prominent Washington lawyer and lay Catholic who chaired the panel.


The lay activist group Voice of the Faithful complained that the study did not provide adequate information on the failure of some bishops to adequately supervise their dioceses.


''One of the great glaring ommissions from this report is the lack of focus on accountability of the bishops who participated,'' James E. Post, Voice of the Faithful's president, said at a news conference yesterday afternoon.


''In every dimension, the picture is worse than previously acknowledged by church leaders,'' he said.


Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represented dozens of abuse victims, called on church leaders to rescind the report. He said some priests - especially those who moved around - escaped inclusion.''They were major (offenders),'' he said.


But the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Boston priests who committed offenses elsewhere were included in the local count in accordance with the audit's instructions.


Several social scientists who reviewed the report said it provided raw data but not the kind of analysis that will be necessary to prevent future abuse.


''What we've seen today is really the first page, not the last page,'' said the Rev. John Allan Loftus, a Jesuit priest and psychologist who previously ran a major center for treating abusive priests and is studying on sabbatical at Boston College.