DECADES OF DAMAGE; Trail of Pain in Church Crisis Leads to Nearly Every Diocese


The sexual abuse crisis that engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in the last 12 months has now spread to nearly every American diocese and involves more than 1,200 priests, most of whose careers straddle a sharp divide in church history and seminary training.

These priests are known to have abused more than 4,000 minors over the last six decades, according to an extensive New York Times survey of documented cases of sexual abuse by priests through Dec. 31, 2002.

The survey, the most complete compilation of data on the problem available, contains the names and histories of 1,205 accused priests. It counted 4,268 people who have claimed publicly or in lawsuits to have been abused by priests, though experts say there are surely many more who have remained silent.

The survey provides a statistical framework for viewing the sexual abuse crisis against the modern history of the American Catholic Church. It found, for example, that most priests accused of abuse were ordained between the mid-1950's and the 1970's, a period of upheaval in the church, when men trained in the traditional authoritarian seminary system were sent out to serve in a rapidly changing church and social culture.

Most of the abuse occurred in the 1970's and 1980's, the survey found. The number of priests accused of abuse declined sharply by the 1990's.

But the data show that priests secretly violated vulnerable youth long before the first victims sued the church and went public in 1984 in Louisiana. Some offenses date from the 1930's.

''This has been going on for decades, probably centuries,'' said Richard K. O'Connor, a former Dominican priest who says he was one of 10 boys sexually assaulted by three priests in a South Bronx parish in 1940, when he was 10. ''It's just that all of a sudden, they got caught.''

The survey also shows how pervasive the abuse has been. Using information from court records, news reports, church documents and interviews, the survey found accusations of abuses in all but 16 of the 177 Latin Rite dioceses in the United States.

Every region was seriously affected, with 206 accused priests in the West, 246 in the South, 335 in the Midwest and 434 in the Northeast. (Some priests were counted more than once if they abused in more than one region.) The crisis reached not only big cities like Boston and Los Angeles but smaller ones like Louisville, Ky., with 27 priests accused, and St. Cloud, Minn., with 9.

adam on Monday 13 January 2003 - 01:11:15