Catholic Bishops: 783 New Claims of Abuse Reported in 2005

The nation's Roman Catholic leaders received 783 new claims of sex abuse by clergy in 2005, with most of the allegations involving cases that are decades old.

The new claims, reported Thursday, bring the total number of accusations against Catholic clergy to more than 12,000 since 1950.

The latest figures were released as part of the third audit U.S. bishops have ordered conducted to restore trust in their leadership after abuse allegations soared in 2002. Church leaders, however, drew criticism for changing how this latest review was conducted.

In the first two annual audits, nearly all 195 dioceses received an onsite visit. During the most recent review, 104 dioceses were allowed to fill out a questionnaire instead while auditors visited others.

All three audits were conducted by the Gavin Group, a private firm that employed teams comprised mainly of former FBI agents.

Prior to the new audit, the abuse problem was known to have cost dioceses more than $1 billion since 1950. But new figures released by the church show that number continuing to climb: The bishops said the total cost of abuse in 2005 alone was nearly $467 million, including settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders and attorneys' fees, among other things.

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. bishop's conference, has been accused of sexually abusing a woman, and is leading a diocese that filed for bankruptcy because of costs.

Skylstad, who denies the claim against him, said Thursday the experiences have made him neither "naive or in denial about the power of this crisis to affect the ongoing life of the church and the lives of victims." He said the church is committed to ridding itself of the abuse problem.

A separate report also found a slight decline in compliance with all of the provisions of the toughened sex abuse policy that the bishops adopted four years ago. It found 88.5 percent of dioceses were fully compliant compared with more than 95 percent last year.

It said that several dioceses don't have full safe environment training where children learn to keep themselves safe from abusers, and four dioceses have not fully complied with the call for background checks on employees.

The 2002 abuse prevention policy the bishops adopted at the height of the scandal requires dioceses to hire victim assistance coordinators, form review boards to help evaluate abuse claims, conduct background checks on staff and volunteers and teach children to protect themselves from predators. The disciplinary provisions in the plan require prelates to bar guilty priests from all church work.

In 2004, dioceses received more than 1,092 new abuse claims, in addition to the 10,667 claims the American church received from 1950-2002.

Separately Thursday, the New Hampshire attorney general released an independent audit his office conducted of sex abuse prevention in the New Hampshire Diocese, finding that the church failed to make sure that criminal background checks have been done on all employees and volunteers who work with children.

The state audit was part of a 2002 agreement the diocese struck with prosecutors to avoid criminal prosecution over failure to rein in abusers.