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Full Scope of Clergy Sex Abuse Still Not Known

May 17, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Roman Catholic church officials do not yet know the full scope of the sex abuse scandal in the church, according to the former FBI official hired by U.S. bishops to assess reform efforts.

"Many people have been victims, but the truth is we don't really know [how many], not yet," Kathleen McChesney told a group of lay activists this week. "What we have really are estimates": 350 priests nationwide who have resigned, 1,400 who have been accused and more than 4,000 victims.

McChesney said a team of auditors -- she estimated 50 -- will assess reforms in the nation's 195 Catholic dioceses.

She has no formal power over the bishops, though her office can publicly release reports that may embarrass them.

"There are dioceses around the country, I can tell you this, that have done some commendable things, and some that have not," McChesney said. "I'm going to report it as I see it. That's what I was hired to do."

The scandal, meanwhile, continues to harm the church. A new survey conducted by Le Moyne College, a Jesuit school in Syracuse, N.Y., shows that approval ratings for the nation's Catholic bishops have declined over the last 18 months.

The poll of U.S. Catholics found that 59% strongly or somewhat agreed that the prelates were doing a good job leading the church, compared with 83% in fall 2001.

Nearly all of the respondents to the survey -- carried out by the research firm Zogby International -- wanted Pope John Paul II to discipline bishops who failed to remove offenders from church work.

And a separate survey by Catholic Charities USA showed that nearly one-quarter of Catholics -- 22% -- have decreased their giving to church charities because of lingering concern over sexual abuse by the clergy.

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