New York Times Survey Compiles Thousands Of Abuse Cases

The New York Times, following a month-long study, reported in January that a total of 1205 priests have been accused of sexual abuse of more than 4000 minors during the last six decades. The survey contains the names and histories of the priests, most of them ordained "between the mid-1950s and the 1970s, a period of upheaval in the church when men trained in the traditional authoritarian seminary system were sent out to serve in a rapidly changing church and social culture," said the writer of the report, Laurie Goodstein.

According to the Times report, most of the abuse occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Accused priests were found in all but 16 of the country's 177 Latin-Rite dioceses. The survey is significant because while various experts and factions within the church have debated the dimensions of the scandal, the church gas resisted compiling data on the numbers of priests and victims since the problem was first reported nationally in the mid-'80s.

This survey is not the final word, nor does it claim to be a complete listing of all priests credibly accused; but to date it is the most thoroughly compiled survey available, given the limits placed on the information gathered.

"The Times survey counted priests from dioceses and religious orders who had been accused by name of sexually abusing one or more children. It determined that 1.8% of all priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 had been accused of abuse. But the research also suggested that the full extent of the problem remains hidden. In dioceses that have divulged what they say are complete lists of abusive priests (under court orders or voluntarily), the percentages are far higher. In Baltimore, an estimated 6.2% of priests ordained in the last half-century have been implicated in the abuse of minors. In Manchester, New Hampshire, it is 7.7%; and in Boston it is 5.3%."

The findings then do raise the question of how many more cases would surface if pressure were brought to bear either by the courts or new coverage in other dioceses. Goodstein said in a phone interview that the figures are "very conservative," and emphasized that the paper did not include a number of accusations that did not appear credible, nor did it include cases that dioceses counted in their own records but for which they would not supply a name. In some cases, she said, dioceses would not give names for several reasons, including if the priest had died.

The paper also reported that some experts contend the drop in accusations in the 1990s was due less to the efforts of the church than to the reluctance of recent victims to come forth immediately.

According to the Times story, the information used was "culled from newspaper clippings, court records, church documents and statements, and were checked against public listings of accused priests created by victim advocacy groups. Dioceses across the country were called to fill in missing details and to gather information about abuse cases and actions taken by the church against accused priests."

Availability of information varied from diocese to diocese, "depending on public awareness of the scandal and the willingness of church leaders to provide names and details of accused priests."

Commentary

Rev. Francis F. Baiocchi

In the same month in which Laurie Goodstein's report appeared in The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter's Robert McClory wrote a report about how the members of the national review board overseeing church efforts to eliminate clerical abuse of children were themselves "snubbed" by Cardinal Edward Egan of New York City who refused to meet with them while they were in New York recently. The Cardinal did not even want the review board's chairman to speak in his diocese. (She had been invited to speak to local parishioners there to explain her responsibilities to laypeople - one of the mandates given her by the US bishops themselves: "to communicate regularly with the public.")

This is the very same national review board created by the bishops themselves last summer. Their task is to check directly on the local dioceses' compliance with the regulations put in place at the bishops' meeting in Dallas and later amended by the Vatican. The board members had already met nine times in cities across the nation and had generally received fine cooperation from the prelates in those dioceses.

Cardinal Egan is playing a bit of Russian roulette here; if other bishops cannot prevail upon him to become more cooperative in this all important task of trying to regain credibility for the US bishops, this cardinal could easily find himself forced to walk in the footsteps of another "giant" among US prelates, Cardinal Law.

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