The number of children sexually abused by U.S. Roman Catholic clergy and the payout costs incurred by the Church for these cases have decreased significantly in 2009, according to a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown.

Although there were a reported 400 new allegations of clergy sex abuse in 2009, the tally is a marked drop from 620 cases in 2008 and 889 in 2004. The total payouts from such cases have dropped to $104.4 million, from the previous year’s total of $499 million.

The study came out just days before a front-page article was published in Thursday’s New York Times that reported the Vatican’s failure to defrock a U.S. priest who reportedly molested as many as 200 deaf boys.

“As the U.S. bishops and Pope Benedict have said on numerous occasions, the Catholic Church continues to acknowledge the grievous sins committed by a few of its members and strives to bring healing to the victims of sexual abuse within the Church,” said Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., executive director of Campus Ministry.
O’Brien acknowledged the actions taken by the Catholic Church to prevent future incidents and to increase awareness of the issue.

“For many years now, the U.S. bishops have instituted strict protocols and training programs to ensure the protection of children in our care. These measures apply not simply to priests but to lay men and women who work with children. The Church has also introduced education programs for parents and children to report any abuse,” he said.

He also said that these incidents in the Catholic Church have helped society understand and deal with cases of sexual abuse more effectively.

“The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has brought to light the sad reality of sexual abuse outside the confines of Catholic churches and schools; above all within families, where most abuse occurs,” O’Brien said.

The new findings have raised suspicions for victims of predator priests.

“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) wrote in a statement.

SNAP views the study as an example of victims’ inability to accurately report the crimes in a timely manner. According to the CARA report, 88 percent of the majority of the new cases reported date from decades ago.

“There always has been and will be decades between the actual offense and the reporting of it,” SNAP said.

Susan Gibbs, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Washington, pointed to procedures implemented to avoid future cases of sexual abuse, such as safe environment training for children as well as background checks for seminarians, priests, volunteers and employees in the Church.

“The response of the Church has been extraordinary in dealing with a painful and all-too-real situation for children. It is our hope that other organizations, including youth organizations and public school systems, follow our lead in putting in place protections for children,” Gibbs said.

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