Priests from the New York Archdiocese exit Madison Square Garden as Pope Francis conducts Mass there, in New York City on September 25, 2015. (AFP photo)
Reports about sexual abuse by members of the US
Catholic clergy increased sharply last year, according to an annual audit of reports by the US
Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The audit of reports showed that 838 people came forward from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015, to say they had been sexually abused by priests, deacons or members of religions orders while they were children.
That is up 35 percent from 620 new reports of abuse a year earlier.
While most of the reports are related to cases of abuse from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, there were 26 reports made by young individuals of more recent abuse.
The bishops said the increase largely reflected a large number of claims in six dioceses that had either filed for bankruptcy or were located in states that opened windows allowing victims to sue over old cases of sexual assault.
The report also found that Catholic institutions spent $153 million on settlements, legal fees and other expenses related to claims of sex assault over the audit period, up 29 percent from $119 million a year earlier.
About a dozen dioceses have filed for bankruptcy in the face of extensive lawsuits, claiming they do not have the resources to pay them.
Reports of serial sex abuse by priests and systematic cover-ups by the Catholic leadership exploded in the US media in 2002.
Approximately 6,900 US Roman Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse with at least 16,900 young victims between 1950 and 2011, according to data from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Similar patterns of abuse have since emerged at dioceses around the globe, undermining the church’s moral authority and depleting its finances as it paid out billions of dollars in settlements.
Pope Francis in 2014 established a Vatican commission intended to establish best practices to root out abuse in parishes.
Some theologians have argued that the church’s policy on celibacy fosters sexual dysfunction and abusive behavior among priests.