What is the estimated number of priests who have sexually abused minors in the United States?
A review of a national database of news stories indicates that close to 2 percent of priests over the last 40 years have molested minors. Currently, many dioceses are reviewing their files and report the same percentage.
How many priests are there in the United States right now?
According to the Official Catholic Directory, there are about 45,000 diocesan and religious order priests. Nearly 100,000 men have served as priests since 1960.
How much has the church paid out for claims of sexual abuse?
Each diocese is a separate civil and ecclesiastical institution which reports directly to the Holy See. The fact is no one (including USCCB) knows the amount and all estimates of the amount are guesses.
Should dioceses have paid money to those who said they were abused?
Dioceses are committed to a pastoral response to victims of sexual abuse by a priest. That may include payment for counseling or other services, or compensation for harm often after informal mediation outside the courts. Many victims also sue dioceses for damages. The dioceses, however, will seek a fair settlement, one that is just to the victim but does not impair its works of service in the community.
Where does money for settlements come from?
Most of the settlements have come from diocesan liability insurance. In extraordinary situations, a very few dioceses have had to use other assets.
Will the Vatican help pay settlements?
No. Dioceses around the world actually make donations to support the work of the Holy See.
Is the money collected in parishes used?
Virtually all the money collected in a parish goes to that parish’s support. Some of it supports the overall work of the diocese. Many special collections are taken up for specific purposes such as the missions or the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Why were priests abusers allowed back into service?
The relationship of a diocese to a priest is more like a family than a business relationship. Even a priest who sins seriously remains a priest. Priests, like others, can suffer from disabling psychological problems. For most of these problems, like alcoholism, there has never been a question that, if a priest receives effective treatment, he can resume his ministry. Sexual abuse is gravely immoral behavior which can also be a manifestation of various degrees of psychological illness. Previously the depth of some of these illnesses, such as pedophile, was not fully understood, and in the past, some priests were returned to parishes even though, as we now understand, their treatment was ineffective. In the last two decades, society as a whole, has come to realize how great a problem this is.
Why did the church enter into confidentiality agreements with victims of sexual abuse?
A decision to keep a matter confidential has never been made by a diocese alone. All parties to a case and the court must agree on confidentiality. Confidentiality agreements are, therefore, often sought by both the plaintiff and defense to maintain privacy. Most complaints are “John Doe” anonymous complaints and the church strives to respect a victim’s request for confidentiality.
Why didn’t bishops always turn over names to police when cases were brought to their attention?
Many times the accusers sought confidentiality and/or did not want to enter into the legal system. Unless the victim is currently a minor, many states even today do not require reporting of an incident.
Have the U.S. bishops taken this problem seriously?
The bishops have addressed this problem as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops since the mid-eighties, and dioceses began to formulate policies regarding sexual misconduct at that time. In 1992 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its five principles for dealing with sexual abuse and outlined the components of a responsible sexual abuse policy. The five principles are
1. Respond promptly to all allegations of abuse when there is reasonable belief that it has occurred.
2. If such an allegation is supported by sufficient evidence, relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties and refer him for appropriate medical evaluation and intervention.
3. Comply with the obligations of civil law as regards to reporting of the incident and cooperating with the investigation.
4. Reach out to the victims and their families and communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being.
5. Within the confines of respect for privacy of the individuals involved, deal as openly as possible with the members of the community.
Can there be one policy for all diocese of the United States?
As a working assumption, all dioceses share a common policy that reflects the above five principles and other advice of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. States differ in their laws regarding statues of limitations and reporting of cases of sexual abuse and dioceses differ in their resources and pastoral needs. In addition, every diocese is a separate entity and each bishop, as indicated, is answerable primarily to the Holy Father not to his fellow bishops. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered advice to all dioceses in this matter and will continue to do so.
Why are we seeing all this publicity now?
The publicity in almost all cases focuses on past cases of abuse. The case of John Geoghan of Boston, who was defrocked by Pope John Paul II at the request of Cardinal Bernard Law, is extraordinary in its horrific scope and nature. The Geoghan case focused on abuse of many prepubescent children and a pattern of transferring Geoghan from parish to parish.
Why do most of the cases involve a priest and a teenage boy?
Treatment professionals indicate that this is a crime of opportunity and priests have more opportunities to be with boys than with girls, though there have been instances of priests sexually abusing girls.
Can a priest who has abused a minor ever serve as a priest again?
In some places, priests who had limited instances of abusive behavior in their past and who were judged by competent psychological experts not to pose a danger to minors have received both parochial and non-parochial assignments. Much of the present discussion revolves around whether any priest with this behavior in his past should be so assigned.
Is it fair to relieve a priest of assignment now for actions 20-to-40 years ago and for which he received treatment?
In today’s climate there is such a heightened fear of abuse of a minor that many dioceses do not feel safe in leaving a priest in an assignment even when parishioners request that they remain there. Some dioceses will no longer allow a priest with a history of abuse serve in any position at all.
What are the bishops doing about this crisis right now?
More and more diocese around the country have been offering programs to prevent such abuse from occurring again. This includes increased education on child sex abuse in dioceses parishes and schools, such as “Good touch-bad touch” programs, to alert children in ways they can understand as to what constitutes appropriate touch to their bodies. The screening of seminary candidates has been made more stringent. To deal with problems when they arise, many dioceses have lay advisory boards which include women and parents on them. The bishops plan to devote extensive periods of time to this issue during their June meeting in Dallas to discuss further steps to address the issue.
Would abandoning the rule of celibacy for priests in the Roman rite of the Catholic Church handle this problem?
The problem of child sexual abuse in not related to celibacy. Acts of sexual abuse of a minor are perpetrated by persons who are married as well.
Has the Vatican taken any action?
In 1994, the Holy See granted several exceptions to the Code of Canon Law for bishops in the U.S. so that they could discipline priests who might otherwise fall outside the scope of the Code. Last year, the Holy See changed its regulations related to sexual abuse of a minor, requiring, for example, that cases be reported to the Vatican, a step reserved to only the most serious sins and violation of church practice, such as a priest’s violating the seal of the confessional. Included in this were steps which the U.S. bishops had asked for an gotten in 1994.
Where can I learn more about sexual abuse of minors and what the church as done to combat it?
Go to the web site of the USCCB, www.usccb.org. The site includes background material on pedophilia and what the U.S. Bishops have done to address it in the church.