WASHINGTON Mar 14 – The US Roman Catholic church has paid out $436 million in 2008 for sex abuse cases involving clergy members, according to an official report aimed at healing deep wounds of the scandal that blew up in 2002.,
The bulk of the money – more than $374 million – was paid out in settlements to victims, according to the report that tracks how well the church is implementing a charter to protect children.
The sums paid out in settlement had fallen 29 percent compared with the record $526 million paid in 2007, the report showed.
Around $22 million went to therapy for victims or support for accused offenders last year, showed the report, commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for the past six years.
While costs to the church related to the sex abuse scandal fell across the board, the number of new allegations and victims both rose by 16 percent, however.
The report showed that 803 new allegations of abuse – over half of which were from children – were lodged last year, compared with 692 in 2007.
Just over half of the new allegations involved abuse cases that were said by the accusers to have occurred or begun between 1960 and 1974. Most of the alleged perpetrators are either dead or no longer in ministry.
The report also said that the number of victims also rose, from 689 in 2007 to 796 in 2008.
Two-thirds of the victims were male, and more than half were under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred.
More than one in five victims was under age 10 when they were abused, and there were 10 new credible allegations of abuse last year to a person still under the age of 18, the report said.
The annual review tracks progress made in implementing the Charter for the Protection of Children, which was adopted by US bishops in 2002 after the institution plunged into crisis with the Archbishop of Boston’s confession that he protected a priest he knew had sexually abused young members of his church.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB, said in a statement on Friday that the church was "on the right path" in its quest to better protect "all children in society."
But the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) faulted the report for focusing on victims of the abuse, while not highlighting "bishops who keep hiding crucial information about church pedophiles that could actually prevent future childhood trauma."
"Virtually no bishop holds anyone responsible for concealing predators," said SNAP official Barbara Dorris.
To compile the report and track compliance with the charter, the church conducted audits of the 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States.
But seven dioceses and eparchies refused to be audited, including the Lincoln diocese in Nebraska, which has consistently blocked the church auditors.
"We’re saddened but not surprised that once again Lincoln Catholic officials have chosen to not even do the bare minimum regarding child safety: participate in the annual review as mandated by the USCCB," said SNAP President Barbara Blaine in a statement.
"Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz claims the evaluation wouldn’t ‘place into context’ the large number of priests who were not abusive.
"No one disputes that many priests lead truly admirable lives, but that does not negate the need to expose, bring to justice and protect kids from those clergy who commit horrific crimes against the innocent and the vulnerable," said Blaine, herself a victim of a predator priest when she was younger.
During a trip to the United States last year Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, went out of his way to heal the wounds left by the sex scandal, saying he felt deeply ashamed by it.
He mentioned the scandal in nearly every homily and speech he gave during the six-day visit, and chastised the US church for its handling of it.