Diocese releases abuse numbers

CHARLESTON — The Diocese of Charleston announced its statistics from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study of child sexual abuse by clergy in a press conference Feb. 27. The survey was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to gather information from each diocese on the number of clergy who were accused of sexual abuse of minors, the number of accusers and the amount of money paid by each diocese for counseling, legal fees and settlement of claims. The survey encompassed a time frame from 1950 to 2002.

“Promoting healing among victims and within the church is a priority for our diocese,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker. “I hope that by our efforts to be honest and forthright on this issue, society as a whole may be helped to confront an issue of epidemic, cultural and moral proportions.”

The Diocese of Charleston reported the following statistics in the John Jay study. In South Carolina, since 1950:

Allegations of sexual abuse of minors have been made against 24 priests, two deacons and one deacon candidate.

The diocese determined the allegations made against 21 priests, one deacon and one dea- con candidate to be credible.

Of those 22 clergy members and deacon candidate with credible allegations against them:

— seven are retired from ministry;

— one was removed from ministry;

— eight are dead;

— three are on administrative leave;

— one left ministry of his own accord;

— one is in prison;

— one returned to his home country after the diocese notified the priest’s bishop of the allegation; and

— the one deacon candidate was never ordained.

Forty-nine allegations were made against clergy members by 48 individuals. (Some clergy members had multiple allegations.) The diocese determined 45 of those allegations to be credible.

In sum, 2.7 percent of the clergy who have worked in the Diocese of Charleston between 1950 and 2002 have been the subject of a credible allegation of sexual misconduct of a minor. This figure is below the national average of 4 percent.

About $2,546,000 was paid in settlements as a result of sexual abuse allegations. Insurance companies and related parties paid $642,000 of that amount, while $1,904,000 was covered directly by the diocese.

In addition, approximately $646,000 has been paid for counseling and legal fees related to the sexual abuse allegations.

“The way these numbers are presented to you is in no way an attempt to minimize the problem of sexual misconduct against minors by clergy,” said Deacon Al Payne, director of the diocesan Child Protection Services Office and former detective for the Summerset County, N.J., prosecutor’s office. “One case of abuse is one too many; therefore, the Diocese of Charleston has been a leader in recognizing and combating the issue of clergy sexually abusing minors.”

Thanks to Bishop Baker’s predecessor, Bishop David B. Thompson, the diocese created a statewide policy on handling allegations of child sexual abuse by church personnel in 1994, Deacon Payne said. The policy was updated in 1997 and was rewritten in 2003.

“Additionally, the diocese has taken proactive steps to reach out to victims and to educate all church personnel about child sexual abuse,” the deacon said. “Our victim assistance minister, Louisa Storen, is a licensed social worker who is committed to providing comfort and care to victims who report an allegation. The diocese encourages any victim of clergy sexual abuse to come forward and report his or her abuse to civil authorities or to Ms. Storen at (800) 204–7955.”

The diocese provides sexual abuse prevention training to all clergy, religious, diocesan staff members and volunteers in the state. Half-day seminars teach participants how to create a safe environment for children, how to recognize the signs of an abused child, and the protocol for reporting any form of abuse. This training received a commendation from the Gavin Group auditors with the John Jay study. The diocese conducts extensive background screening on everyone — including volunteers — who works with youth.

“We also have a dedicated group of men and women, known as our pastoral response team, which immediately responds once an allegation is reported to the diocese,” the deacon said. “The pastoral response team reaches out with Christian care, concern, support and healing to all people affected by the allegation, such as the victim, the victim’s family, schoolmates, parish members and the accused.”

Last month, after an extensive audit process, the Gavin Group found the Diocese of Charleston in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The diocese was awarded three commendations for the positive steps it has taken to protect children from sexual abuse.

Maria A. Aselage, director of the Office of Communications and Information, reported the national survey statistics, which were released in Washington Feb. 27. The report is based on information provided by 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States and its territories, representing 97 percent of all diocesan priests in the U.S. and 140 communities, representing about 60 percent of religious communities and 80 percent of religious priests.

The mandate for the study was to:

— Examine the number and nature of allegations of sexual abuse of minors under the age of 18 by Catholic priests between 1950 and 2002.

— Collect information about the alleged abusers.

— Collect information about the ages, etc., of the alleged victims.

— Accumulate information about the financial impact of the abuse in the church as a whole in the United States.

Here are some of the other findings from the national report:

— The total number of priests with allegations of abuse in the survey is 4,392.

— According to numbers provided by individual dioceses, 109,694 priests served in ministry from 1950 to 2002. Based on that number, 4 percent of all priests active between the years 1950 and 2002 had allegations of abuse.

— The majority of priests accused were alleged to have abused one victim.

— A total of 10,667 individuals made allegations of child sexual abuse against priests.

— The survey stated that money already paid by the church to victims,  for the treatment of priests, and for legal expenses totalled $442 million. However, 14 percent of survey participants did not report dollar figures; this also does not include a recent settlement by the Archdiocese of Boston.

“I am alarmed by every single situation of child sexual abuse and am reminded of the Lord’s strong condemnation in the Scriptures of anyone who brings scandal to a child,” Bishop Baker stated in a press release. “As we begin our journey through Lent, we as a church renew our commitment to protect children from any harm, and we continue to pray for all victims of sexual abuse.

“We are the only organization, religious or secular, that has compiled such a study into the problem of child sexual abuse. I, along with my fellow bishops, believe these reports reflect the commitment that we are making to confront this crisis in a positive way. They reflect the valiant efforts of those good and faithful clergy who have served our church so well and have affected the lives of many thousands of people in ways that only God can know and only God can properly reward,” the bishop said.

“We hope that by our efforts to be honest and forthright on this issue, which goes far beyond the doors of our own church, society as a whole may be helped to confront an issue of cultural and moral proportions. These are, after all, not only our children, they are the children of God as well,” he said.

During the press conference, one reporter asked the bishop if he felt the Catholic Church was being unfairly targeted.

The bishop said, “I believe the media has a duty to question those in moral authority.”

He also challenged other organizations to follow the Catholic Church’s lead in undertaking studies on the occurrence of child sexual abuse.