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The toll of church abuse

AREPORT commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops offers the most comprehensive survey of sexual abuse by any professional group. The great pity is that it came decades too late to spare thousands of young people from sexual predators.


The report detailing the number of cases was done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. It is accompanied by another report from the National Review Board, also set up by the bishops, which recommends policies to prevent recurrences. Had the bishops created this board 20 years ago, when the issue first came to the attention of the conference, they could have averted a devastating scandal.

In Boston the number of Catholic clergy accused of abuse approached 7 percent, far above the 4 percent national figure. Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley says he does not understand the discrepancy. He is being overly kind to his predecessors. Their "Prince of the Church" leadership style sustained a culture that protected abusers.

O'Malley, in office seven months, is showing evidence of greater accessibility. The recommendations of the National Review Board, which call for strengthening the lay and clerical councils that advise the archbishop, mesh with his more open style.

The John Jay study found that 10,667 people nationwide alleged abuse by Catholic clergy from 1950 and 2002. Abuse victims say this number is low, but it is still horrific, involving as it does an institution that is supposed to represent the best impulses of the human spirit.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the National Conference, promised that the scandal will not recur. To ensure this, the bishops needs to nurture institutions like the National Review Board and the lay councils that are essential checks on their authority. Only by letting go of some of their traditional prerogatives will bishops be fully able to exert moral leadership in the church and the community.

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