US abuse audit, survey find soaring costs, fewer allegations

26 Mar 2008

By The Record

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The costs to the Catholic Church in the US for legal settlements in abuse cases, therapy for victims of sexual abuse, support for offenders and legal fees soared to more than $658 million in 2007, the fourth year of reporting on the handling of abuse cases by US dioceses and religious orders.

The 2007 Survey of Allegations and Costs released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on March 7 also reported a continued decrease in the number of new credible allegations of abuse: 599 new allegations were made in 2007, compared with 635 in 2006, 695 in 2005 and 898 in 2004, the first year of the survey.
Only five of the new allegations involved abuse that occurred in 2007. As in past years, most allegations involved abuse that took place before 1985.
According to the survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, dioceses and religious institutes paid $675 million for legal settlements, therapy, support for offenders, attorneys’ fees and other costs.
In the four previous years of the survey, the highest amount paid out was $511 million in 2005.
Of the $615 million, dioceses spent $547 million and religious orders paid $116 million.
Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the US bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the annual costs may continue to be high in coming years, as dioceses pay off settlements to victims of abuse.
In 2007 several dioceses and religious orders announced large settlements, including $724 million for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, covering more than 500 claimants, and a settlement of $54 million for more than 100 claimants by the Oregon-based Jesuit province whose members served in Alaska.
A portion of those settlements is being paid by insurers and is not included in the figures for what dioceses and religious orders have spent. Kettelkamp said it’s difficult to predict whether the number of allegations of abuse will continue to decrease, partly because victims of sexual abuse often wait decades to report what happened to them.
Meanwhile, US schools, parishes and dioceses have put nearly all of the targeted 8.5 million children and adults through training programs meant to teach people at all levels of the church how to prevent abuse from occurring, to spot the signs of abuse and to ensure that it is reported.
An annual audit of compliance with the bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” released at the same time as the CARA survey found that more than 99 per cent of the 37,000 US priests have participated in what is called “safe environment” training.
The training had also been completed by more than 99 perc ent of deacons and educators, more than 98 per cent of 4918 candidates for ordination, 98 per cent of 229,000 Church employees, 98 per cent of 1.4 million volunteers, and more than 96 per cent of the 5.9 million children involved in Church programs.
The audit found 178 of the 190 dioceses that participated to be in full compliance with every article of the charter, it said.
Twelve others were in compliance except for one or two of its 17 articles. Nearly all those fell short on Article 12, the one requiring “safe environment” programs, and almost all gaps were in getting all children through the programs, it said.
“The difficulty has to do with a number of factors,” said the audit report, “the sheer number of individuals in each category; the fluctuation of those numbers; the need to develop and maintain concise record keeping … and the time-consuming process of selecting safe environment programs that are age-appropriate and in accord with Catholic moral principles.”
Kettelkamp said it has proven especially difficult to track one category of people designated in the charter for the training – parents – so it’s unclear how many have participated.