1,200 Priests Reported Accused of Abuse

(Source: AP, Jan. 12, 2003)

NEW YORK - Since the Roman Catholic church became embroiled in a sex abuse scandal a year ago, more than 1,200 priests in nearly every diocese in America have been accused of sexually abusing children, The New York Times reported.

A survey conducted by the Times through Dec. 31 found that 4,268 people have claimed publicly or in lawsuits that priests abused them in the past six decades.

The Times survey, relying on court records, news reports, church documents and interviews, found that 1,205 priests, or 1.8 percent of all priests ordained from 1950 to 2001, had been accused of abuse.

Most of the priests accused of abuse were ordained between the mid-1950s and the 1970s, while the alleged abuse occurred primarily in the 1970s and the 1980s, the newspaper reported in its Sunday editions. Some allegations date to the 1930s.

Since last January, when the Boston Archdiocese disclosed documents showing that officials had protected priests who molested, hundreds of people have come forward with accusations of abuse.

The Times reported that more than 400 priests have resigned or retired because of the scandal since last January, including Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law. Law was accused of transferring from parish to parish priests who were accused, often repeatedly, of sexually abusing minors.

A separate count conducted by The Associated Press showed at least 325 priests had either resigned or retired since the scandal erupted. The AP count relied solely on statements from dioceses, while the larger Times figure also includes court records, news reports and other sources.

Experts say it is impossible to tell how many abuse victims exist, saying many didn't report the abuse before the 1950s because of the social stigma and that many still have not come forward.

"My assessment is it's only the tip of the iceberg," said William R. Stayton, a Widener University professor who teaches human sexuality. He was shown the results of the Times study.

"You really don't have a true picture. I have worked with many clergy sexual abuse cases over the years, and very, very few of them were reported."

The Times survey also found:

_ Half of the priests accused of abuse were accused of molesting more than one child, and 16 percent were accused of having five or more victims.

_ Eighty percent of the priests were accused of molesting boys. A majority was accused of molesting teenagers, while 43 percent were accused of molesting children 12 and younger.

The newspaper reported that 63 priests were accused of abuse in the 1950s, and seven in the decades before. Two hundred fifty-six priests were accused of abusing minors in the 1970s, 537 in the 1970s, 510 in the 1980s and 211 in the 1990s, the newspaper said.

Experts who reviewed the Times study said it was possible that the number dropped off in the 1990s only because many victims have not yet come forward. But church officials noted they began to more thoroughly address the problem at that time, reporting sex abuse cases to law enforcement, psychologically screening for candidates for the priesthood and adding courses on human sexuality to the seminary curriculum.

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