New numbers show big slowdown in U.S. abuse claims

Last week we briefly noted that the release of a report showing that claims of sex abuse by priests in the United States is at their lowest levels since data started being collected by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2004. 

Considering that clerical sex abuse is back in the headlines, both here and around the world, it is worth taking a closer look at the situation here in the United States as revealed in that report. (For more on the current abuse scandal and its impact on Pope Benedict XVI, see Greg Erlandson’s column on Page 18 and our editorial on Page 19). 

All but two of the 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States participated in the annual study, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., declines to participate every year, and the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., missed this year’s deadline for completing the survey. 

Here are some key numbers: 

  • The credible allegations this year involved 398 victims and 286 offenders. Compare that to 2004, when there were 889 victims and 622 offenders. 
  •  The largest number of cases this year — about 37 percent — date back to incidents alleged to have taken place between the years 1975 and 1985. 
  • Six cases involve alleged sexual abuse of minors that took place in 2009. That is number stands out as high compared with allegations made in 2009 about incidents between 1995 and 2009; they average out to less than one a year. 
  •  Of the cases reported, 17 percent of the victims were female and 83 percent were male. 
  •  About 70 percent of the victims were 14 years old or younger. Fifteen percent were younger than age 10. 
  • Of the accused offenders this year, 55 percent have prior allegations. 
  • Seven in 10 alleged offenders identified in 2009 are dead, already permanently removed from ministry or laicized, or missing. 
  •  In 2009, another 34 priests or deacons were permanently removed from ministry. 
  •  About 12 percent of all allegations made in 2009 were determined to be unsubstantiated or false.
  • From 2004 through 2009, dioceses and eparchies paid out a total of about $2 billion related to clerical sex abuse. 
  • Of the money paid out between 2004 and 2009, $251 million went to attorney’s fees, $79 million went to support for offenders and $45 million went to therapy for victims. 
  •  In 2009, the total payout was $104 million. Of that, 53 percent went to settlements to victims, attorneys’ fees consumed 27 percent, support for offenders took 10 percent, and therapy for victims took 6 percent. 

Painful reading, but we can be heartened that there’s marked improvement after years of darkness. 

As always, I look forward to hearing from you at