updated 2/17/2004 8:43:33 AM ET 2004-02-17T13:43:33

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles — the nation’s largest — released a detailed study Tuesday on sex abuse of minors by its clergy since 1930, reporting among the highest number of claims against a U.S. diocese to date.

Los Angeles church officials say that, over the decades, they received allegations from 656 people who said they had been molested by 244 priests, deacons, religious brothers, seminarians and one other person.

More than 5,000 priests worked in the archdiocese during that period.

Cardinal Roger Mahony compiled the report as part of an unprecedented, nationwide accounting of abuse cases commissioned by America’s bishops to help ease two years of crisis over molestation in the church.

“The archdiocese has committed significant resources to help those who were harmed to recover from their horrible experiences,” the report said. “We hope our efforts will help, but we realize that only the grace of God can provide the complete healing the victims need.”

National report due on Feb. 27
The national study of which Los Angeles’ numbers are a part is scheduled for release Feb. 27, and some bishops already have started revealing their local figures.

Reporters from the Associated Press have been tracking those numbers and have found that, including Los Angeles, 85 dioceses have reported claims so far against 1,657 clergy since 1950.

CNN reported Monday that it has seen a draft of the national survey, and that 4,450 clergy nationwide have been accused of molesting minors since 1950.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese acknowledged in its report that it is at the center of a “tempest of blame and criticism” over how it dealt with victims and accused priests.

Mahony has been targeted for pledging full disclosure of information about clergy misconduct, then fighting the release of some personnel files to a grand jury, including records of counseling for priests that the archdiocese said were confidential under state law.

The archdiocese also is facing a flood of civil cases. More than 500 claims have been made against the Los Angeles church since state lawmakers temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on child sex abuse lawsuits.

Cardinal apologizes for mishandling cases
In the report, Mahony repeatedly apologized for mishandling some cases since he became Los Angeles archbishop in 1985, and asked the region’s 4.2 million Catholics to pray that victims heal and reconcile with the church.

But he also argued that the understanding of how best to address abuse has changed over time, and that some approaches previously recommended by psychiatrists and others were only now considered inadequate.

While reports from several other dioceses have contained extensive details about past abuse claims, the Los Angeles study gave more specifics.

The archdiocese is among the few to reveal the names of nearly all of the accused. Its 34-page report explained the evolution of its abuse policy, and had case studies of accused priests to illustrate its approach.

Among them is former priest Michael Baker, who remained in church work even though he admitted molesting two boys, and now faces more than 20 abuse claims. Cardinal Mahony “was far too lenient in permitting him to continue in assignments,” the report said.

Many claims recently filed
The accusers are disproportionately male, and, although most of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, many of the claims were not filed until the latest wave of scandal, the report said.

Mahony, who was falsely accused of abuse himself, cautioned that some of the allegations could be unsubstantiated. Some claims have been made against clergy who could not have been in the place where the alleged crime occurred, according to the report.

The archdiocese has withheld the names of 33 accused clergy, saying the investigation of their cases was in its earliest stages or the evidence collected so far was considered too questionable.

The archdiocese said it had paid $10.4 million in settlements since 1985.

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