U.S. bishops meeting to discuss pedophile priests 100,000 victims, one estimate says

June 17, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

Gathering in a city rocked by two church sex scandals, the nation's Catholic bishops were meeting in New Orleans today to discuss rising concerns about pedophile priests.

Adult "survivors" of clergy sexual molestation staked out the New Orleans Hyatt Regency Hotel yesterday, asking arriving bishops to sign "covenants" promising that the church and its lawyers would not "re-traumatize clergy abuse victims."

Barbara Blaine, a leader of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the church is questioning the truth of many victims' allegations, and filing countersuits against some.

"Right now, the bishops are allowing their lawyers to handle the biggest moral crisis facing the Catholic Church in this century," said Ms. Blaine, 36, who says she was sexually abused by a priest during her teen-age years in Toledo, Ohio.

According to some estimates, financially strapped Catholic dioceses around the country have quietly paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements to clergy abuse victims.

In a recent article in America, an influential Jesuit magazine read by many bishops, the Rev. Andrew Greeley estimates that there are more than 100,000 victims of priestly child molestation in the 53 million-member U.S. Catholic church.

Father Greeley, a Catholic sociologist and author, arrived at the number from a study by the Archdiocese of Chicago that found valid accusations against 39 clergymen -- or 5 percent of the men who had been priests there during the past 25 years.

Assuming similar percentages across the country, and citing "conservative estimates" that pedophile priests may molest 50 children during their careers, Father Greeley arrived at his figure of 100,000 victims.

Ms. Blaine said the priest who abused her from age 13 to 17 "had me wrapped around his finger."

"He'd buy me gifts, and tell me that sex outside of marriage was normally wrong, but that God had blessed this," she said.

At the meeting today, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was to discuss the recommendations of a "think tank" it assembled to study its pedophile problem last February in St. Louis.

That panel advised the bishops to let lay people run review boards that consider abuse allegations, to more carefully screen seminary students, and to provide better assistance to victims.

It also calls on the church to set up a national task force to enact uniform guidelines for dealing with pedophile priests and their accusers.

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