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Issue Date:  March 21, 2008

Church paid $615 million on abuse claims in 2007

The U.S. Catholic church paid out $615 million in costs related to sexual abuse claims in 2007, even as the number of victims coming forward fell for the third straight year, according to an annual report issued March 7 by the U.S. bishops’ conference.

More than $526 million went to settlements between victims and dioceses and religious orders last year. That’s an increase of 90 percent over 2006 and a new high for the U.S. church.

At the same time, according to the report, dioceses and religious orders received 691 credible reports of sexual abuse from 689 victims in 2007, down from 714 such reports in 2006.

Most of the sex attacks took place decades ago, according to the report, most frequently during the 1970s. Just five new instances of the molestation of a minor by Catholic staff during 2007 were reported.

The 84-page report is part of a yearly review inaugurated after the sexual abuse crisis exploded in the church in 2002. It is produced by the bishops’ National Review Board, with information provided by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and audits conducted by the independent Gavin Group Inc. of Boston.

All of the U.S. church’s 195 dioceses but one -- the diocese of Lincoln, Neb. -- undertook an audit. Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz has steadfastly refused to comply.

In a public letter to conference president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, Michael Merz, chair of the National Review Board, conceded that Bruskewitz’s recalcitrance “scandalizes the faithful, who cannot understand resistance to a simple measure for the protection of children.”

Eleven dioceses, archdioceses or eparchies were noncompliant with one or more stipulations in the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, according to the report. Most had not fully addressed the charter’s conditions for “safe environment” programs.

David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the bishops’ charter “vague, weak and only sporadically enforced.”

Since 1950, sexual abuse-related costs have reached an estimated $2.4 billion and almost 14,000 abuse claims have been lodged, according to church figures.

-- Religion News Service

National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 2008

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