Between June 2017 and June 2018, the Catholic Church in the United States spent a whopping $301.6 million on costs related to clergy sexual abuse, including nearly $200 million in legal settlements, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The new report also revealed that, during the same 12-month period, the church fielded 1,051 new “credible allegations” of sexual abuse of a minor by priests and other clergy.
The number of allegations and the costs related to abuse were significantly higher than reported in previous years, which the report attributes to a victim-compensation program adopted in New York state last year. That program fielded 785 new allegations of abuse against Catholic clergy, many from past decades.
What’s remarkable is that these numbers may rise against next year.
The information in the new report, released last Friday, predates the escalation of the church’s sexual abuse scandal last summer. That’s when abuse allegations surfaced against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and a damning report by a Pennsylvania grand jury accused some 301 “predator priests” of abusing more than 1,000 victims.
Most of those accusations dated from before 2002, when the bishops instituted new sex-abuse polices.
But those policies do not apply to bishops, a loophole the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have pledged to fix next week at their annual meeting in Baltimore.
How the money was spent
Called the “Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the 74-page document is based on statistics provided by religious orders, the country’s 197 Catholic dioceses and information obtained by an outside auditor, StoneBridge BusinessPartners.
Here’s how the $301 million was spent:
- Settlements: $194,346,291
- Other payments to victims: $7,317,904
- Support for offenders: $23,366,845
- Attorney fees: $30,517,658
- Other costs: $7,070,839
- Child-protection efforts, including background checks and training: $39,290,069
According to the report, between June 2017 and June 2018 there was an 132% increase in allegations, a 133% increase in victims, and a 51% increase in offenders reported over the previous 12 months.
The $301 million spent by dioceses and religious institutes on child protection efforts and costs related to abuse allegations represents a 14% increase from the previous year, according to the report.
The vast majority of the accused abuse occurred before 1999, according to the report. Nearly half (48%) is alleged to have occurred before 1975 and an additional 40% between 1975-1999, the report says.
Concerns about putting ‘children’s safety at risk’
Still, the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ lay review board said he was concerned that the report demonstrates “signs of complacency and lack of diligence on the part of some dioceses.”
“What is concerning are the 26 allegations by current minors (12 males and 14 females) reported in 2018,” wrote Francesco C. Cesareo, the review board chair, in a letter accompanying the report.
Three of these allegations were substantiated, seven were unsubstantiated, three were unable to be proven, six were still under investigation, two were referred to religious orders, two involved unknown clerics, and three were incidents of boundary violations but not sexual abuse, according to the report.
“These current allegations point to the reality that sexual abuse of minors by the clergy should not be considered by bishops as a thing of the past or a distant memory,” Cesareo said. He also noted that 14% of the dioceses were flagged by the auditor for a follow-up visit because they were not following church protocol on child protection.
“While not widespread, the fact that in some dioceses these recurring problems are still evident points to lack of diligence that puts children’s safety at risk,” Cesareo said.
In a preface to the report, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged the church has more work to do.
“While much has been done to ensure survivor ministry and the protection of the vulnerable are core values of the Church, improvements still must be made,” wrote Cardinal Daniel DiNardo.
“When it comes to the protection of young people, the question must always be ‘what more can be done?’ We have in front of us an important opportunity. An opportunity to do better.”