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Confirmed priest abuse allegations in single digits for 2014

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Priests celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, Jan. 17, 2105. Credit: Catholic Charities/Jeffrey Bruno (CC BY 2.0).

There are tens of thousands of Catholic clergy in the U.S. – but there were fewer than 10 substantiated allegations of clergy sex abuse committed in the 2013-2014 audit period, according to the U.S. bishops' latest report. In addition, almost all clergy, laity and other workers and volunteers at Catholic institutions have undergone safe environment training. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops’ “first priority” is healing for victims and survivors of abuse. “We join Pope Francis in his desire that the response of the Church be pastoral and immediate,” the archbishop said in the preface to the annual report on the implementation of the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. “Though our promise to protect and heal made in 2002 remains strong, we must not become complacent with what has been accomplished,” Archbishop Kurtz said in an April 17 announcement from the U.S. bishops’ conference. “It is my hope and prayer that as we continue to fulfill our promise, the Church will help model ways of addressing and bringing to light the darkness and evil of abuse wherever it exists,” he said. The report was prepared by the bishops' Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the National Review Board that monitors the Catholic Church’s efforts to respond to and prevent sex abuse. The report uses two sets of data: one from the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, and another from reports submitted by the auditors at Stonebridge Business Partners to the secretariat. The CARA data found only six allegations of abuse of a minor that took place from July 2013 to June 2014 that had been substantiated by law enforcement, and two incident of abuse substantiated by a canonical process in the Catholic Church. The Stonebridge Business Partners auditors’ data has a somewhat different analytic frame. It includes all allegations reported by a diocese or eparchy during an audit year. It also measures allegations made by someone who is currently a minor.  The auditors examined 37 allegations reported to civil authorities by someone who was a minor during the period from July 2013 to June 2014. Civil authorities found six substantiated allegations of abuse, while 11 were found to be unsubstantiated, 12 were unable to be proven, and eight were still under investigation. There are over 30,000 Catholic priests in the U.S. and over 16,000 deacons. Overall, the Stonebridge auditors examined claims from 620 alleged survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy whose 657 allegations were reported to the bishops’ secretariat from July 2013 to June 2014. Of these, 130 cases were substantiated and 62 were unsubstantiated, while 243 were still under investigation, 210 were unable to be proven or disproven, and 12 were classified as “other.” Over 80 percent of credible abuse allegations reported to the secretariat date back more than 25 years. The majority of allegations concerned incidents from the 1960s to the 1980s. The audit said all new allegations were reported to the authorities. The Catholic bishops’ abuse protection efforts include safe environment training programs for children and for adults who come into contact with children. Almost 4.5 million children have received this training, as have 99 percent of priests, deacons and educators. Over 1.9 million volunteers at Catholic institutions have received the training, as have over 250,000 other employees and over 6,500 candidates for ordination. The percentages of adult training completion range from 97-99 percent. CARA surveyed all 195 dioceses and eparchies in the U.S. except one, while one diocese and five eparchies did not participate in the Stonebridge audit.          From July 2013 to June 2014, the Church has spent over $31.6 million on safe environment training programs, background checks and other protective efforts, as well as $119 million on legal settlements for abuse victims, therapy for victims, attorneys’ fees, and other allegation-related costs. Deacon Bernie Njoadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said in a March 1 letter included in the secretariat’s report that there is an “ongoing” obligation to protect children that will only be fulfilled “When everyone realizes and carries out their responsibilities.” He said the secretariat’s work is a result of “the willingness to look honestly at effectively confronting this evil of sexual abuse of minors.”

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