New report shows fewer abuse claims brought against U.S. Catholic clerics

Archbishop Timothy Broglio Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the USCCB fall plenary assembly Nov. 14, 2023. | Credit: USCCB video

A new report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) shows that across the country from mid-2022 to mid-2023, just over 1,300 clerical abuse allegations came to light, while payouts to victims reached $284 million — tens of millions more than the prior year. 

This figure is down from 2,704 allegations brought the prior year, the report states, while some 4,434 allegations were brought in 2019.

Of those allegations, dioceses and eparchies deemed 229 of them credible; 71% of those allegations concerned incidents that occurred or began in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The total number of new allegations from victims who were currently minors in the studied year remained similar to the prior year, at 17.

“These numbers are not just numbers. The statistics are the many stories and accounts of the betrayal of trust and the lifelong journey towards recovery,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the USCCB, wrote in the report’s introduction. 

“I am most grateful to victim survivors for reporting the abuse they suffered, for holding all of us accountable, and for allowing us to journey alongside you.”

The 2024 report, released May 27, was produced in collaboration with an accounting firm by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, a lay advisory body to the bishops established in 2002 on the protection of children and youth. 

The report covers a period between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. All 196 Catholic dioceses and eparchies participated in data collection for the audit, but not all 196 dioceses and eparchies participated in an on-site audit, the report noted. Nevertheless, the report cited a “very high percentage of clergy, educators, seminarians, and employees who receive training in the area of child safety and abuse prevention, along with equally high numbers of those participating in background checks.”

“No other institution can readily provide and publish the body of knowledge and statistics as the Catholic Church does. The abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is a part of a larger societal problem of abuse,” Broglio continued. 

“What are we learning as a Church because of the abuse crisis? By acknowledging wrongdoing and communicating remorse and sorrow, the Church is taking ownership of her failure to protect. We are emphasizing the core value of relationships and encounters. We are putting in place steps and measures for safe environments and following up on near misses. The child or vulnerable person is at the center of these conversations.”

The figures

The number of clerics accused of sexual abuse of a minor during the audit period totaled 842. Of this total, 548 were diocesan priests, 122 belonged to a religious order, 34 were incardinated elsewhere, and 51 were deacons. Of the identified clerics, 45% had been accused in previous audit periods. Since 2019, the majority — two-thirds — of abuse allegations have been made known to a diocese, eparchy, or religious community through an attorney.

Out of the 1,308 allegations identified in this report, 17 involved people who were minors when they brought the allegations — four males, 11 females, and two were unknown due to a lack of detailed information. 

Taking a broader view, the report says that looking at all abuse allegations received in the U.S. from 2004 to 2023, 55% of all the credible allegations occurred or began before 1975, 41% occurred or began between 1975 and 1999, and 4% began or occurred since 2000.

Of those allegations, three were substantiated, seven were categorized as investigation ongoing, four were unsubstantiated, two were categorized as unable to be proven, and one was categorized as other, the report says. There were 44 allegations of abuse of minors brought in 2021, only four of which were substantiated. 

Of those accused, the report says, nine in 10 (91%) of them are deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized, or missing. A further 5% of those identified during 2023 were permanently removed from ministry during that time; a handful were temporarily removed from ministry pending investigation of the allegations. None were returned to ministry or remain in active ministry pending the investigation, the report says. 

Forty-nine percent of alleged offenses occurred or began before 1975, 42% between 1975 and 1999, and 9% after 2000. Among the 228 victims where their gender was known, three-quarters were male.

Separately, the report identified 113 credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor committed by religious order priests, brothers, and deacons, made by 111 persons against 69 individuals. The alleged victims in this case were 80% male; only 63% of religious institutes provided information for the report, however.  

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Similar to diocesan clergy, a high percentage, 91%, of accused religious are deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized, or missing.

Costs

The report found that dioceses and eparchies that responded to the survey paid out $260,509,528 to victims between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, a figure 66% higher than that reported for year 2022. In the past decade, only the years 2020 and 2019 respectively saw higher total payout amounts. The 2023 payout figure includes payments for allegations reported in previous years, the report notes. 

Insurance payments covered approximately $38,294,901, or 15%, of the total allegation-related costs paid by dioceses and eparchies. Money from savings, general operating budgets, loans or lines of credit, investments, bankruptcy filings, debt restructuring, property sales, staff reductions, and program or service elimination were also cited by dioceses as means of paying.

(As seen in the map below, numerous U.S. dioceses have declared bankruptcy in recent years amid mounting abuse lawsuits.)

In total, U.S. dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities reported paying out $284,043,825 for costs related to allegations between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, a 41% increase over last year’s total of $201,973,695.

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At the same time, U.S. dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities paid $43,747,179 for child protection efforts between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. This is a 4% increase from the amount spent on such child protection efforts in the previous reporting year. 

Compared with fiscal year 2022, the amount of payments for attorneys’ fees for fiscal year 2023 was 23% higher. 

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