.- In compliance with the U.S. Bishops “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” the bishops' conference has just released its 2009 annual report. The results show a series of positive trends, including the fewest number of sex abuse investigations, offenders, and victims since 2004, as well as increased participation in Safe Environment training.
Data for the 2009 report was collected by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), an organization which has been gathering information on the sexual abuse of minors for the bishops’ conference since 2004.
That data showed that there were 398 allegations and 286 offenders reported to dioceses across the country during 2009. Most of the reports of sexual abuse involved offenses that occurred in previous decades. Only six allegations in 2009 pertained to children under the age of 18, and an eighth of all allegations during the year were determined to be false accusations or unsubstantiated.
CARA reported that “for the majority of new allegations (71 percent) brought to dioceses, the abuse began between 1960 and 1984” and that “the most common time period for allegations reported in 2009 was 1975-1979.”
Nationwide, the total cost paid by dioceses for settlements, therapy for victims, support of offenders, attorney fees and other costs amounted to $104,439,629 in 2009. Of this total, 53 percent was for settlements with victims and another six percent went toward therapy for victims if it was not already included in settlements. CARA also reported that “compared to 2008, amounts paid for settlements in 2009 decreased by 83 percent and the amount paid in attorneys’ fees declined by three percent.”
Additionally, dioceses nationwide invested more than $21 million in child protection efforts such as training programs and background checks. In all, almost six million children in Catholic schools and religious education programs went through Safe Environment training. Background evaluations were also performed on over two million priests, deacons, seminarians, educators, employees and volunteers.
“The number of children now equipped with the skills to protect themselves more effectively continues to grow,” said Cardinal Francis George, president of the USCCB, in a memo to all bishops and eparchs. “The Charter is causing a cultural change in the U.S. Catholic Church, one I hope will permeate all areas of society.”
However, Cardinal George highlighted the need for vigilance on the part of the bishops and for a continued outreach to victims. “Of course, as bishops, we take the responsibility to reach out to victims/survivors and create safe environments seriously. The life and dignity of the victims/survivors and of little ones lie at the core of our responsibilities as shepherds,” he said.