WASHINGTON — The number of children sexually abused by US Roman Catholics and church payouts for clergy sex cases fell sharply last year, a report commissioned by US bishops said Tuesday.
Some 400 new allegations of clergy sex abuse were reported in the United States in 2009, down from 620 cases in 2008 and 889 in 2004, when the first report tracking child predators in the US Catholic Church was issued.
Payouts for sex abuse cases last year also dropped sharply to 104.4 million dollars, according to the report compiled by the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).
In 2008, the US Catholic church paid out 376 million dollars over the long-running sex scandal, and in 2007, costs related to allegations of predator priests peaked at 499 million.
The fall in clergy sex abuse cases was "good news" for the US church and "a sign of the progress we have made" since a sex scandal rocked the US Catholic church in 2002, said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which commissioned the report.
But a leading support group for victims of predator priests said the report's data were not only suspect but also amounted to an admission that sex abuse by priests and deacons was still widespread,
"These numbers come from most of the same bishops who concealed and enabled clergy child sex crimes for decades. They are inherently suspect, to say the least," the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said in a statement.
The figures also amounted to an admission by US bishops "that more than once a day last year, they got reports of clergy sex crimes," SNAP said.
Of the 398 new sex abuse victims reported in this year's report, 251 were aged 10-14 when the alleged offenses began, and 61 were younger than 10.
The vast majority of the abuse cases reported -- 88 percent -- dated from decades ago, with only a handful said to have begun last year.
According to the figures listed in the report, for every five-year period from 1955 until 1990, there were at least 20 cases of child sex abuse committed by priests, with a high of 79 cases between 1975-79.
From 2000-2004, only five new cases were reported, and between 2005 and 2009, there were nine new cases, the report said.
But SNAP dismissed the vastly lower recent figures, saying that "very few child victims are able to disclose the crimes as they happen."
"There always has been and will be decades between the actual offense and the reporting of it," the support group said.
Nine of the 286 alleged sex offenders were priests from abroad -- from El Salvador, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Poland.
The Pakistani priest was already in prison on another sex abuse conviction, and the Polish priest was serving a one-year jail sentence and will be deported back to Poland, according to the report.
But others, including one of two Mexican priests, a Nigerian and two Salvadoran priests, have fled to their home countries, it said.
SNAP member Barbara Blaine said the fugitive priests were scurried out of the country by bishops.
"We have found that the bishops assisted some of the priests who molested in the US in sneaking out of the country so they were not arrested," she told AFP.
Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, went out of his way during a trip to the United States in 2008 to try to heal the wounds left by the US clergy sex scandal, mentioning it in nearly every homily during his week-long visit and saying he felt deeply ashamed by it.
Last week, Benedict had to apologize again, but this time to children abused by Irish priests. The Church has also been rocked in recent months by allegations of sex scandals in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil.
"The pope could and should do so much more," said Blaine.
"He should tell every bishop in the world to ensure that all predator priests have been removed from ministry. He should tell all the bishops to hand over all the information they have to police."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »