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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 17, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 8Oakland, CA

Number of reported clergy abuse cases drops

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although child sex abuse allegations against Catholic clergy may continue, there is a marked decrease in the number of cases that have occurred in recent years, said a report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Most of the recent allegations concern events that took place decades ago, it said in a supplemental report to its mammoth study of the nature and scope of the U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis.

The original study, covering the years 1950-2002, was released in 2004 and commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board. The supplemental study contained further analysis of the same data and was released in Washington March 30 along with the 2005 audit of how the U.S. church is applying its sex abuse prevention policies.

“The decrease in sexual abuse cases is a true representation of the overall phenomenon,” said the John Jay supplemental report.
“Even if more cases are reported, they will be based primarily on abuse that occurred years before,” it said.

That is certainly the case in the Diocese of Oakland where three women and nine men came forward in 2005 to report abuse that had occurred when they were between the ages of nine and 15.
Nine victims named diocesan priests who had already been named by other victims and are not serving in ministry. Two victims said they were abused by priests outside the diocese and one by a religious order priest in the diocese.

Oakland Bishop Allen Vigneron offered to meet with the 10 victims within the diocese, but to date none have accepted. The bishop has conducted 21 apology services for victims over the past two years.
Each service was held in the parish where the abuse took place.
At the news conference releasing the national report, Karen Terry, John Jay principal investigator, said there was a significant decline in child sex abuse cases after 1985 and “an even more significant” drop after 1993.

Margaret Smith, data analyst for the study, said the spike in clergy sex abuse cases in the 1970s and 1980s paralleled a spike in the general society in child maltreatment and other “socially deviant” activities such as crime and drug use.

The initial study said 4,392 clergymen, almost all priests, were accused of abuse by 10,667 people during the 1950-2002 period. It said 75 percent of the abuse incidents occurred during the 1960-84 period.

The separate 2005 audit report released March 30 said more than half of the 783 allegations reported last year occurred before 1980.
The John Jay supplemental study said dioceses taking “prompt and decisive action” after receiving reports of sex abuse “were able to limit the extent of the problem of sexual abuse by clergy.”

Dioceses responding promptly reported a lower average number of abusive clergy, a shorter average duration of abuse per clergyman and a lower average percentage of explicit sexual acts, said the report.

“For those dioceses and religious institutions with 15 or more priests with allegations, increased use of suspension and treatment increased the positive results,” it added.

Smith said the data shows there were “many cases, frankly, when no response” was made by church officials.

The average abusing priest was in his late 30s at the time of the first reported abuse, the analysis said. The average time lapse between ordination and the first reported incident of abuse was 11 years, the study said.

Because of this time gap, “there are no clear, early indications of risk that a priest will abuse later on,” it said.

Terry said the only exceptions in terms of possible early detection are serial abusers who had more than 20 victims and who began abusing within three to four years of ordination.

The fact that 55 percent of the abusers were reported to have had only one victim indicates that most priests had a low likelihood of repeating a sex crime, said the report.

“Very young and very old clerics are more frequently found among single-incident cases than in the group with two to 20 incidents,” it said.

Priests accused in only one case of sexual abuse “show evidence of greater self-control or self-correction,” it said.

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