Audit of US Catholic church shows sharp spike in sex abuse reports

Audit of U.S. Catholic Church Shows Big Spike In Sex Abuse

BOSTON, May 20 (Reuters) - An annual audit of reports of sexual abuse by members of the U.S. Roman Catholic clergy released on Friday showed sharp increases in the number of new claims and in the value of settlements to victims.

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The audit 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, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said.

That is up 35 percent from 620 new reports of abuse a year earlier, an increase that the bishops said 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.

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Audit of US Catholic church shows sharp spike in sex abuse reports
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Mark Perez wears a button bearing the image of Pope Francis while waiting for him to arrive for a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015, in Washington, DC. The charity serves dinner to about 300 homeless people daily at the site, and it will serve a meal during the pope's visit. (Photo by David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School September 25, 2015 in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The pope is in New York on a two-day visit carrying out a number of engagements, including a papal motorcade through Central Park and celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered on the route to the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pope is concluding his U.S. tour by spending two days in Philadelphia, having visited Washington D.C. and New York City. (Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)
WYNNEWOOD, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets seminarians as he walks the loggia to his address to the Bishops at St. Martin of Tours Chapel at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsylvania. After visiting Washington and New York City, Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. ((Photo by Tom Gralish-Pool/Getty Images)

While the bulk of the reports related to cases of abuse date back to the 1960s, '70s and '80s, there were 26 reports made by minors of more recent abuse.

The report also found that Catholic parishes and other orders spent $153.6 million on settlements, legal fees and other expenses related to claims of sex assault over the audit period, up 29 percent from $119.1 million a year earlier.

The report does not say what cities saw the sharpest increases. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis filed for bankruptcy and the states of Minnesota and Hawaii lifted their statutes of limitations for reporting old cases of abuse during the period covered by the report.

Bankruptcies have typically led to spikes in reports by abuse survivors afraid they are seeing their last opportunities to seek redress, said Marci Hamilton, a professor at New York's Cardozo School of Law who has studied the abuse crisis.

"All these survivors come out of the woodwork who might never have done so except that this looks like it's their only chance," Hamilton said.

The findings came in the 13th edition of the report, a practice the church began after reports of serial sex abuse by priests and systematic cover-ups by the Catholic hierarchy exploded in the U.S. media in 2002.

Similar patterns of abuse have since emerged at dioceses around the globe, undermining the church's moral authority and sapping 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. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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