Just two weeks before the release of an unprecedented national report on clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. Church, the Associated Press said its review of diocesan reports indicates that 1,341 priests have been accused of abusing minors in the last five decades.
The AP report includes figures made public by 80 of the 195 U.S. dioceses. Statistics have not yet been released by some archdioceses that have faced hundreds of allegations, such as Boston and Los Angeles. There is some inconsistency among dioceses as well, as some included claims against deacons, religious brothers and sisters.
U.S. dioceses made public their local figures in anticipation of the nationwide survey of clergy sexual abuse, which will be released Feb. 27. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice conducted the survey upon the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The bishops also formed the lay National Review Board to oversee the study. The board is expected to release the results of its own investigation into how the crisis occurred.
"Bishops chose to get the hard data ... to make sure the steps they've taken are adequate to addressing the problem," Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the USCCB, told the AP.
"This is an unprecedented study of a single profession,” the monsignor was quoted as saying. “It takes the risk of concentrating even further attention on the Catholic priesthood a problem that is a human problem, that is engaged in by members of a family in regard to other members of their family."
USCCB officials say it is difficult to have a comparative assessment of the data, since no other organization or church has ever conducted such an extensive study. The Catholic League addressed this issue by documenting the prevalence of abuse in families and other professions in a report called “Sexual Abuse in social context: Catholic clergy and other professionals”.
Church officials said it was difficult to determine how many priests were guilty of abuse since many cases were not reviewed by police and most of the claims involve alleged misconduct that occurred decades ago, reported the AP.
About 179 of the accused priests have died and many personnel and financial records are missing, said diocesan officials. As well, about 60 priests were exonerated of false claims, reported the AP.
The AP says its review indicates that the incidence of abuse is much greater than previously thought. A January 2003 review by The New York Times calculated 1,205 claims of abuse since 1950. Survivors First, compiling its own list from media reports and lawsuits, calculated 1,800 cases of abuse.