Annual abuse audit and survey find soaring costs, fewer allegations

By Patricia Zapor, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The costs to the Catholic Church for legal settlements in abuse cases, therapy for victims of sexual abuse, support for offenders and legal fees soared to more than $600 million in 2007, the fourth year of reporting on the handling of abuse cases by U.S. dioceses and religious orders.

The 2007 Survey of Allegations and Costs released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops March 7 also reported a continued decrease in the number of new credible allegations of abuse: 599 new allegations were made in 2007, compared with 635 in 2006, 695 in 2005 and 898 in 2004, the first year of the survey.

Only five of the new allegations involved abuse that occurred in 2007. As in past years, most allegations involved abuse that took place before 1985.

According to the survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, dioceses and religious institutes paid $615 million for legal settlements, therapy, support for offenders, attorneys' fees and other costs. In the four previous years of the survey, the highest amount paid out was $466 million in 2005.

Of the $615 million, dioceses spent $499 million and religious orders paid $116 million.

Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the annual costs may continue to be high in coming years, as dioceses pay off settlements to victims of abuse.

In 2007 several dioceses and religious orders announced large settlements, including $660 million for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, covering more than 500 claimants, and a settlement of $50 million for more than 100 claimants by the Oregon-based Jesuit province whose members served in Alaska. A portion of those settlements is being paid by insurers and is not included in the figures for what dioceses and religious orders have spent.

Kettelkamp said it's difficult to predict whether the number of allegations of abuse will continue to decrease, partly because victims of sexual abuse often wait decades to report what happened to them.

Meanwhile, U.S. schools, parishes and dioceses have put nearly all of the targeted 8.5 million children and adults through training programs meant to teach people at all levels of the church how to prevent abuse from occurring, to spot the signs of abuse and to ensure that it is reported.

An annual audit of compliance with the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" released at the same time as the CARA survey found that more than 99 percent of the 37,000 U.S. priests have participated in what is called "safe environment" training.

The training had also been completed by more than 99 percent of deacons and educators, more than 98 percent of 4,918 candidates for ordination, 98 percent of 229,000 church employees, 98 percent of 1.4 million volunteers, and more than 96 percent of the 5.9 million children involved in church programs.

The audit found 178 of the 190 dioceses that participated to be in full compliance with every article of the charter, it said.

Twelve others were in compliance except for one or two of its 17 articles. Nearly all those fell short on Article 12, the one requiring "safe environment" programs, and almost all gaps were in getting all children through the programs, it said.

"The difficulty has to do with a number of factors," said the audit report, "the sheer number of individuals in each category ...; the fluctuation of those numbers; the need to develop and maintain concise record keeping ... and the time-consuming process of selecting safe environment programs that are age-appropriate and in accord with Catholic moral principles."

Kettelkamp told Catholic News Service it has proven especially difficult to track one category of people designated in the charter for the training -- parents -- so it's unclear how many have participated.

"We just don't have a firm number of parents" in the targeted church population, she said. Many parents have received training because they are volunteers or employees of the church, and so are counted in those numbers. Others are encouraged to participate in sessions offered for various groups.

After unsuccessfully attempting to track how many parents receive the training the first two years of the audits, Kettelkamp said, subsequent audits haven't pursued a figure.

Five of the new reports received in 2007 related to abuse involving a minor that occurred that same year. Of the 599 new credible reports, only five cases among religious orders and 38 involving diocesan clergy were reported to have occurred since 1990.

Five of the 491 church employees implicated in new reports of abuse were deacons and the rest were priests; 374 of these men had already died, been removed from ministry or been laicized, or were missing. Previous allegations had been made against 287 of the men accused.

Of the 195 dioceses and eparchies -- the comparable entity to a diocese in Eastern-rite Catholic churches -- only the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., did not participate in the CARA survey. Of the 218 U.S. religious orders that belong to the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, 159, or 73 percent, participated.

A statement from the Lincoln Diocese said it operates "in full compliance with all civil and all laws of the Catholic Church concerning the abuse of minors."

It said the diocese has fully implemented the "Essential Norms" approved by the Vatican "and is vigilant to make every reasonable effort to see that any and all abuse is prevented." The norms established legal procedures under church law for applying charter policies.

After participating in the initial audit by the USCCB, "the Diocese of Lincoln has exercised its option to refrain from participation in the audit, as its application, though perhaps helpful in some dioceses, has not proven to be so in the Diocese of Lincoln," the statement said.

For the audit conducted by the Gavin Group, the Lincoln Diocese was joined by four Eastern-rite eparchies in declining to participate.

In June 2002 at a meeting in Dallas, the U.S. bishops adopted the charter and its mandates for an annual audit and survey and also adopted the "Essential Norms" to assure that all dioceses adhere to the charter. The charter was updated in 2005, the norms in 2006. The charter and norms have Vatican approval.

The charter also established the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board to oversee compliance with the charter.

Copyright © 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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