The National Review Board, a lay panel that the bishops appointed in 2002 to oversee the church's handling of sex-abuse issues, yesterday laid much of the blame for the crisis on the bishops themselves.
In its "causes and context" report, issued alongside the John Jay study, the board said the bishops had systematically concealed abuse, reassigned abusive priests, failed to respond pastorally to victims, and failed to adequately screen candidates for the priesthood or prepare them for the challenges of a celibate life.
"These leadership failings have been shameful to the church as both a central institution in the lives of the faithful and as a moral force in the secular world," said Robert S. Bennett, principal author of the "causes and context" report.
"There is absolutely no excuse for what occurred in the Catholic Church," said Bennett, a Washington lawyer. "This is not a media crisis or a personnel crisis. It's the age-old question of right and wrong, good and evil."
The nation's 195 dioceses and nearly 140 religious orders have paid $572 million in victim compensation, legal costs, and treatment for victims and priests, according to the study. Most of the known abuse occurred in the 1970s and '80s; reports of abuse dropped off markedly after 1993.
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference yesterday that he found the report "painful to read" but called its detailed and voluminous data a "vital benchmark" that would make children safer.
Gregory said that since 2002, more than 700 abuser priests had been removed from active ministry. He said that no priest known to have abused a minor was still functioning as a priest.
"This is a terrible history," he said, "but it is history."
(In an asterisk to that history, the Detroit Free Press reported this week that the Vatican recently reinstated a priest found to have had consensual sex with a youth who was between the ages of 16 and 18 in the mid-1970s. At the time, the Vatican said, church law held that 16 - not the 18 of today - was the age of majority. The priest is now a chaplain with the Navy.)
Based on confidential data provided by 98 percent of the nation's dioceses and 63 percent of its Catholic religious orders, the John Jay team determined that 10,667 individuals made credible allegations against priests between 1950 and 1992.
Karen Terry, head of the team, said the total was surely much higher, since many dioceses reported additional anecdotal evidence - such as reports by accusers that their siblings also were abused indicating 3,000 "probable victims" who had not come forward.
Gregory yesterday voiced his "heartfelt sorrow" to the many victims, and called on any person abused by the church's clergy to come forward, "if that is your choice."
Among the study's findings:
81 percent of the victims were male.
The average victim was 12 1/2 years old when the abuse started; half of the victims were between 11 and 14.
25 percent of the abusers were pastors; 42 percent were associate pastors.
50 percent of the victims were abused for more than a year, 28 percent for two to four years.
Just under 56 percent of the abusers are known to have had no more than one victim.
3.5 percent of the abusers - those with 10 or more victims - accounted for 27 percent of the allegations.
The $572 million in costs and payments does not include figures for 14 percent of the dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Boston, which is committed to paying $85 million to settle claims.
10 percent of all priests ordained in 1970 were accused of abuse, the highest for any ordination year.
Yesterday, the Dioceses of Camden and Trenton, which cover South Jersey, released the data they had submitted for the John Jay survey.
The Camden Diocese said it found "substantiated allegations" against 33 priests between 1950 and 2002; there were 63 victims, and the diocese paid $6.11 million in legal settlements and for treatment.
The Trenton Diocese, which includes Burlington County, found substantiated claims of abuse against 25 priests by 43 victims in that time period. It paid $926,000 in settlements and victim care.
On Thursday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia released data showing that it had had 44 priests with "credible allegations" against them, and that it paid $1.45 million for counseling and legal settlement. The archdiocese, which is the subject of a grand jury investigation, did not release the number of victims it had documented.
The National Review Board's Bennett said it would be "simplistic" to blame the abuse on the presence of homosexuals in the priesthood or on the celibacy requirement for priests, but he called on the bishops to study both factors as possible contributors to the high levels of abuse.
Terry, head of the John Jay study team, said there was no way to tell if Catholic clergy had abused children more than the general male population, because there had never been a good national study. She also said there were no good studies of abuse by other males who worked with children, such as teachers, coaches, or youth leaders.
Sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, echoed that observation. "No other profession or religious denomination has done this kind of extensive inventory," he said yesterday.
Groups representing sex-abuse victims generally praised the two studies.
The National Review Board report "did not varnish the truth," said Steve Krueger, executive director of Voices of the Faithful, a national victims' support group that is calling for a greater role for laity in the leadership of the Catholic Church.
David Clohessy, executive director of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the reports a "positive step" toward understanding the abuse problem. He described Bennett's report as "pretty straightforward," and the board's 12 members as the church's "best hope" for keeping the bishops on track.
Clohessy said he believed the John Jay researchers had failed to grasp how many dioceses dismissed young victims or their families when they first reported abuse, but added that he wanted to study the report more closely.
Anne Burke, acting chair of the National Review Board and a judge on the Illinois Court of Appeals, called yesterday a "great day" for the U.S. Catholic Church because she said it demonstrated that the laity could play an essential role.
"This is just one crisis in the church that needs the attention of the whole church," she said in an interview. "Hopefully, the Holy See will see that."
Catholic columnist George Weigel, who wrote an authorized biography of Pope John Paul II, cautioned against using the abuse crisis to further the agendas of any sector of the church.
"To a large degree, this has been a crisis of fidelity," he said. "And the only solution is going to be a deeper commitment to Catholic fidelity."
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
'The Church Must Be Holy . . .'
Excerpts from the National Review Board's report:
This is a failing not simply on the part of the priests who sexually abused minors but also on the part of those bishops and other church leaders who did not act effectively to preclude that abuse in the first instance or respond appropriately when it occurred. These leadership failings have been shameful to the church . . . and have aggravated the harm suffered by victims and their families.
Although it is not possible to pinpoint any one "cause" of the problem . . . there were two overarching contributing factors: Dioceses and orders did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly. As a result, many sexually dysfunctional and immature men were admitted. . . .
Seminaries did not form candidates for the priesthood adequately. As a result, seminarians were not prepared for the challenges of the priesthood, particularly the challenge of living a chaste, celibate life.
Some bishops and other church leaders often put what they erroneously believed to be the institutional concerns of the local church above the concerns of the universal church. The fear of scandal caused them to practice secrecy and concealment.
The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. . . . Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.
Greater involvement of the laity in church governance might well have lessened both the extent of the current crisis and the magnitude of the laity's negative response to it. In addition, greater involvement by the laity in the selection of bishops could help to ensure that future bishops are pastors, prophets, and men of honor and not mere management functionaries.
The full report (as a PDF file) can be read at http://go.philly.com/abusereport