Archdiocese releases clergy abuse statistics

Approximately seven percent of archdiocesan priests serving during the period of 1950 to 2003 had an allegation of sexual abuse made against them, according to a review conducted by the Archdiocese of Boston of the record of clergy sexual abuse. The report was made public Feb. 26.

Prior to the Feb. 27 release of the national John Jay Report on the scope of the abuse, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) asked each diocese to publish its own individual abuse statistics in keeping with the Church’s commitment to transparency and openness. The report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which was commissioned by the USCCB, does not report statistics for individual dioceses. The results of a study on the causes of the abuse crisis that erupted in the past two years were also released Feb. 27.  

“Since neither of these two national studies will give specifics on any particular dioceses, it is important that we make public to the members of the Church of the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as the wider community, the scope of the issue of sexual abuse of children by clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston that has come to light over the past two years by making public the numbers and statistics relative to the issue from 1950-2003,” said Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley in a statement accompanying the report.

Archbishop O’Malley commended the USCCB for commissioning the studies, which he said aids not only the Church but society at large in preventing sexual abuse of children.

“Unless and until the scope, causes and context of the sexual abuse of children by clergy are understood in all their devastating detail, attempts to address it will remain insufficient,” he stated.  The studies “demonstrate that the Church is finally and unflinchingly committed to facing this scandal head on and doing all in our power to prevent anything like it from ever happening again,” the archbishop continued.

Archbishop O’Malley apologized to victims and their families and pledged to continue the archdiocese’s work of abuse prevention and healing.

“While progress has been made, more needs to be done. The Archdiocese is committed to doing everything humanly possible in order to ensure that this never happens again,” he said in the statement. “As Archbishop of Boston, I make that commitment once again, on behalf of myself and on behalf of the Church of Boston.”

According to the report, 2,324 archdiocesan priests served in active ministry from 1950 to 2003. Of that number, 162 were accused of sexually abusing a minor — approximately seven percent.

Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, put that number in the context of other dioceses in the United States when he described the archdiocesan percentage as “high.”

“We’re high ... 50 percent higher than where many other dioceses are,” he said.

The archbishop’s statement called the numbers “truly horrific” but said that “they are also telling both in terms of extent of the problem and the time frame in which the magnitude of the problem became known.”

Although 162 priests were accused of abuse, “it does not mean that a determination criminally, civilly or canonically, has been made regarding the truth or non-truth of the allegation,” according to the report. Names of accused priests were not included in the report.

A breakdown of the 162 priests accused of misconduct reveals that 59 were ordained between 1960 and 1969, eight were ordained between 1980 and 2003, and 58 are deceased.

The vast majority of allegations involve incidents that are alleged to have occurred within the period from 1965 to 1982, the archdiocese states in the report. “The number of allegations involving sexual abuse during the period from 1983 through 2003 shows a substantial decline in comparison to the prior periods.”

The data “shows that from 1980 on we had started to put a lot of things in place to deal with the issue,” said Father Coyne. “The archdiocese had made great strides in reducing the number of abusive priests.”

In his statement, the archbishop said that he takes “some consolation” from the drop in the number of incidents of abuse in the past 20 years that have been reported to the archdiocese.  However, he stated that “one incident is too many, one child hurt too much.”

“We must all do everything that we can to make sure that the scourge of child abuse not only within the Church but in the wider society as well is wiped clean from our midst,” Archbishop O’Malley continued in his statement.

During the 53 years covered by the report, 815 people accused an archdiocesan priest of abuse though more than half of the victims were allegedly abused by only seven priests. The majority of accused priests, 89, had only one victim, 46 had between two and five victims, 15 victimized between six and 10 people, and 12 priests had 11 or more victims.

Father Coyne said it was regrettable that more was not done to identify and stop the most egregious offenders earlier.

“The numbers indicate that if we had removed those men earlier we would have been able to prevent abuse against many children,” he stated. “In hindsight that would have been best, but that’s not what happened,” he continued.

The report states that the majority of accusations of abuse by clergy were reported to the Archdiocese of Boston between January 2002 and December 2003, a time period during which there was intense media coverage of the clergy abuse crisis.

Through December 2003, the archdiocese paid $120.6 million to settle abuse claims, according to the report. The amount reimbursed by their insurance companies during that time was $22.3 million.

The report also states that during the 1950-2003 period, three deacons, 10 priests from outside the archdiocese and 44 religious order priests were accused of sexual abuse. In total, they victimized 150 people. According to the report, it was not possible present this number as a percentage of those serving in the archdiocese because there is “no way of knowing with accuracy” the number of visiting priests and religious order priests working in the archdiocese during the 53 years studied.

While the report clearly shows a drop in the number of reported incidents of clergy abuse, Father Coyne said that the archdiocese stands firm in its commitment to preventing further abuse in the future.

“There still is a problem,” Father Coyne stated. “No one is ignoring that, but the fact that the archdiocese has made such great strides should give some peace of mind [to the people of Boston] that the issue is not as acute in any way as it once was.”