Published February 29, 2004
BOSTON – Roman Catholics across the nation discussed clergy sex abuse from pulpits, at protests and in parishes on Sunday, two days after the release of reports outlining the scandal's scope and the church's failure to protect children.
Many said they feel relieved the church is coming to terms with the problem.
"I must admit the figures are shocking, but I do think the church is doing its best to address this," said Nancy Fitzpatrick, 44, a registered nurse who attended services at St. Patrick's Cathedral (search) in New York. "Releasing these figures means they're acknowledging how big a problem this is, and that's a good step."
Others feared the thousands of abuse claims reported by the church might not have given a full account.
"It's just staggering the numbers of people who were abused," said Joan Smola, 59, of Hadley, who attended a vigil for victims in Springfield. "Do we know whether all of the dioceses were honest in what they put in their reports? I'm sure there are many victims who have not come forward."
About 100 victims and their supporters gathered Sunday to march from Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross (search) to the Statehouse, kicking of a petition drive urging Gov. Mitt Romney to appoint a clergy abuse task force to oversee the church in Massachusetts, where Boston was the epicenter of the sex abuse scandal.
Rick Webb, of the group Speak Truth to Power (search) and an organizer of Boston's Sunday protest, said the church needed more oversight over priests who are no longer in ministry and live in the community among children.
"No one knows who they are or where they might be and whether they might offend again," he said.
On Friday, the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by church bishops, released two church-sanctioned studies.
One report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (search) found there have been 10,667 abuse claims from 1950 to 2002. More than 80 percent of the alleged victims were male and over half said they were between ages 11 and 14 when they were assaulted.
About 4 percent of all American clerics who served during the years studied — 4,392 of the 109,694 priests and others under vows to the church — were accused of abuse, according to the report, which was based on information provided by most of the 195 American dioceses.
Many victims claim the church underreported the real number of priests accused of sexual abuse. Only 2 percent of abusers were sent to prison for what they had done, according to the church's report.
The second report examines the causes of the molestation crisis, putting much of the blame on American bishops for not cracking down on errant priests.
In that report, the National Review Board pointed out the evolution of the crisis in the Boston archdiocese, where the crisis exploded following the revelation that the late defrocked priest John Geoghan had been shuffled among parishes despite allegations of abuse.
The board's report described how interviews about the situation in Boston left the board "deeply disturbed" by how church officials, including Cardinal Bernard Law, ignored warnings about predatory priests and allowed them to stay in ministry. Law resigned as archbishop in Dec. 2002.
"The picture that emerged was that of a diocese with a cadre of predator priests and a hierarchy that simply refused to confront them and stop them," the report said.
On Sunday morning, Robert Bennett, the lay person who oversaw the study, said on NBC's Meet the Press that he thinks bishops who mishandled abuse cases should resign.