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Boston Archdiocese Releases Abuse Report

BOSTON -- Archbishop Sean O'Malley said the findings in the Boston Archdiocese report on clergy sex abuse were "truly horrific." But advocates for victims in Boston said the figures released as part of a nationwide accounting of clergy sex abuse accusations were unbelievably low.
/ Source: WHDH-TV

BOSTON -- Archbishop Sean O'Malley said the findings in the Boston Archdiocese report on clergy sex abuse were "truly horrific." But advocates for victims in Boston said the figures released as part of a nationwide accounting of clergy sex abuse accusations were unbelievably low.

That was a higher percentage than national figures released by another diocese late Thursday. The national church-sanctioned study documenting sex abuse by U.S. Roman Catholic clergy found that about 4 percent of clerics have been accused of molesting minors since 1950.

The Diocese of Yakima, Wash., said in a news release that the survey compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found 4,392 of the 109,694 clergy who served over that five-decade period faced allegations of abuse.

The raw numbers of abuse claims and accused clergy are higher than previous attempts by the media and victims groups to tally them, though slightly lower than figures in a draft report viewed by CNN earlier this month.

Estimates of the number of guilty clerics have varied dramatically over the years. Church officials have said anywhere between 1 percent and 3 percent of clergy abused minors.

The survey was overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel the bishops formed at the height of the abuse crisis. The review board had a Friday morning news conference scheduled in Washington to discuss the report and a companion study on how the abuse crisis developed.

In Boston, abuse victims and their advocates immediately assailed the report, saying the numbers were remarkably low, given the hundreds of victims who have come forward since the scandal first exploded in Boston two years ago.

"These numbers need to be taken with a mountain of salt," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"We'll never know the full truth because victims don't tell, and only the most naive would assume that church officials have done a complete 180-degree turn and are now telling everything they know."

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, called the report "an insult to victims everywhere."

Although the national John Jay report contains figures from 1950 through June 2003, the Boston archdiocese's figures include allegations made through December 2003.

Of the 815 allegations of sexual abuse by priests reported since 1950, more than half took place between 1965 and 1982, but nearly 500 of the reports of abuse came in since the scandal broke in 2002, the report said.

Fifty-eight of the 162 accused priests are now dead, the report said.

The report did not identify the seven priests linked to more than half the incidents. But the late defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and the Rev. Paul Shanley were among the priests named in dozens of lawsuits filed over the last two years.

"It's still very painful to look at these numbers and to realize the great pain inflicted on so many youngsters, and all that this represents," O'Malley said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's alarming and very discouraging."

Since 1950, the archdiocese has paid out $120.6 million to settle abuse claims, the report said. The national report also tallied abuse-related costs at $533.4 million.

O'Malley said he takes "some consolation" that the incidents of abuse appeared to decline over the past 20 years, a remark that angered some victims' advocates, who also complained that the archdiocese appeared to be trying to downplay the numbers by saying that just seven priests were responsible for much of the abuse.

"The suggestion that this was only a small group of bad apples and that the numbers have gone way down is an embarrassment to the archdiocese. When did these people become experts on child abuse?" said Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represented more than half of the 552 victims who reached a record-setting $85 million settlement with the archdiocese last year.

The scandal began after internal church files revealed that Geoghan and many other priests were transferred from parish to parish rather than removed from ministry after they were accused of abusing children.

In December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned as archbishop of Boston -- the nation's fourth-largest diocese -- amid a storm of criticism over his handling of the crisis.

Alexa MacPherson, 29, who said she was molested by a Boston priest for six years, beginning when she was just 3, flatly rejected the archdiocese's numbers.

"They're wrong. I don't care what that document says. They're 100 percent inaccurate and they're low-balled, and they need to be adjusted to a true figure," she said.

But former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, praised the report as an important attempt by the church to publicly acknowledge the extent of the problem.

"The openness here now that is being exhibited is an opportunity for lay Catholics to understand the problem and commit themselves to being active so that what happened in the past never happens to another child in the future," Flynn said.

Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to the news release. Of those, claims by 6,700 were substantiated. Another 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen were dead.

Another 1,000 claims proved to be unsubstantiated, the Yakima diocese said. (AP)