updated 3/30/2006 12:44:55 PM ET 2006-03-30T17:44:55

The nation’s Roman Catholic leaders received 783 new claims of sex abuse by clergy in 2005, with most of the allegations involving cases that are decades old.

The new claims, reported Thursday, bring the total number of accusations against Catholic clergy to more than 12,000 since 1950.

The latest figures were released as part of the third audit the bishops have conducted to restore trust in their leadership after abuse allegations soared in 2002. Church leaders, however, drew criticism for changing how this latest review was conducted.

In the first two annual audits, all 195 dioceses received an onsite visit. During the most recent review, 104 dioceses were allowed to fill out a questionnaire instead while auditors visited the others.

All three audits were conducted by the Gavin Group, a private firm that employed teams composed mainly of former FBI agents.

Prior to the new audit, the abuse problem was known to have cost dioceses more than $1 billion since 1950. But new figures released by the church greatly expanded the figure: The bishops said the total cost of abuse in 2005 alone was nearly $467 million, including settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders and attorneys’ fees, among other things.

The new audit also found a slight decline in compliance with all of the provisions of the toughened sex abuse policy that the bishops adopted four years ago. The latest audit found 88.5 percent of dioceses were fully compliant compared with more than 95 percent last year.

The audit said several dioceses don’t have full safe environment training where children learn to keep themselves safe from abusers and four have not fully complied with the call for background checks on employees.

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