msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 2/18/2005 2:07:28 PM ET 2005-02-18T19:07:28

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops said Friday that they received 1,092 new allegations of sexual abuse against at least 756 Catholic priests and deacons over the last year, nearly three-quarters of whom were dead or had already been removed from the ministry.

Half of the accused priests over the past year had been previously accused of abuse, said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Most of the alleged incidents occurred decades ago: 72 percent of the priests were either dead, defrocked or removed from public ministry before the newest allegations were received, McChesney said. Most of the alleged abuse took place in 1965-74, according to the audit.

The information came as the bishops released a national audit of U.S. dioceses to determine how well they had complied with the child protection policy U.S. prelates instituted more than three years ago at the height of the clergy molestation crisis. Teams of auditors, made up mainly of former FBI agents, compiled data in visits to dioceses across the country.

The auditors found that more than 95 percent of dioceses had taken the required steps to keep children safe. Seven dioceses and Eastern rite territories were out of compliance, and one diocese, Lincoln, Neb., refused to participate.

“The crisis of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic church is not over,” McChesney said. “What is over is the denial that this problem exists.”

But the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the audits were “minimal and misleading,” contending that bishops had too much control over who participated in the review.

Some training yet to be completed
William A. Gavin, head of the Gavin Group, which conducted the audit, noted in a statement that the bishops’ charter placed a premium on training of priests, deacons and children, with additional emphasis, on any who may have regular contact with children and young people.

While such training “is of paramount importance,” he said, “only 83.8 percent of priests and 82.3 percent of deacons have received this vital training. And, sadly, only 51.5 percent of the children have received the training.”

“Efforts must be redoubled” to ensure that such training is completed as soon as possible, he said.

The report is the latest in a series the bishops commissioned to restore trust in their leadership after the clergy molestation crisis erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston and spread nationwide.

The audit found the Boston archdiocese to be in full compliance. The archdiocese runs criminal background checks on more than 60,000 priests, employees and volunteers every year, archdiocesan officials told The Boston Globe.

Last year, the bishops released an unprecedented statistical review that found that 4,392 priests had been accused of molesting minors in 10,667 cases from 1950 to 2002.

A first series of audits, also released a year ago, found that 90 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses were fully compliant with the child protection policy the bishops adopted under intense public pressure in June 2002. But auditors also found shortcomings in the reforms, such as ineffective monitoring of guilty priests.

The bishops have already authorized a third national audit this year. However, they angered victims’ groups by deciding to reduce the number of dioceses that will receive full onsite reviews.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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