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Stained Glass: The Nature and Scope of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 35 Issue: 5 Dated: May 2008 Pages: 549-569
Karen J. Terry
Date Published
May 2008
21 pages
This study of the Nature and Scope of Child Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests from 1950 to 2002 obtained national data on every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by priests and deacons from existing files at all Catholic dioceses, eparchies, and religious communities.
Findings show that for the time period selected, 4,392 priests (4 percent) had allegations of child sexual abuse against them, 10,667 victims made allegations, and the Catholic Church had paid $572.5 million for legal and treatment fees and compensation to the victims at the time surveys were completed. For most priests, there was a single known victim. For those with multiple victims, specialization by age was uncommon. Many priests committed a variety of sexually abusive acts, most often in their own residence. Little information was available on identifiable pathologies of the offenders (e.g., clear indications of pedophilia), and much of the data suggests selection of victims was related to opportunity. Although the majority of victims were boys, this may be because they were more readily accessible to the priests. The average priest against whom allegations were made had been in the priesthood an average of 11 years before the first known abuse occurred. Some abused many victims for a short time period, and others abused few victims for a long time period. Generally, the more victims a priest had abused, the longer his abusive career. Ultimately, 97 percent of all dioceses and eparchies responded, representing 99 percent of diocesan and eparchian priests. Sixty-four percent of all religious communities responded, representing 83 percent of religious priests. In completing the survey, however, there were variations in completeness and level of detail provided. 8 tables, 7 figures, 2 notes and 21 references