With the Toledo diocesan crest behind him, a solemn Bishop Leonard Blair yesterday acknowledged that three dozen clerics have faced allegations of sexually assaulting minors since 1950.
No names of the accused clerics were released.
As he faced a dozen reporters, the bishop offered his “humble apology” to victims of the assaults.
“It is particularly heinous that a minister use his position of trust as a spiritual father to take advantage of any person, much less a minor,” he said.
Yesterday s news conference was scheduled two weeks before the release of the so-called “John Jay Report.”
Independent auditors for the New York-based John Jay School of Criminal Justice have reviewed internal church documents and legal records throughout the country to determine how many clerics have abused children and how much it has cost the Catholic Church over the years.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned the report after the clerical sexual abuse scandal exploded in Boston.
In an attempt to take the edge off the national numbers, local dioceses around the country have held pre-emptive news conferences in recent weeks.
The Toledo report, a summary of which was included in yesterday s edition of the Catholic Chronicle, acknowledged that:
w Sixty-nine individuals made allegations to the Toledo diocese against the 36 clerics. Bishop Blair later said most of the victims were teenage boys.
w Of the 36 clerics, 23 priests and one permanent deacon have been barred from any ministry. Nine others are deceased, one is under investigation, and two were exonerated.
w The church still faces 19 lawsuits in Lucas County Common Pleas Court alleging sexual abuse by clergy.
John Hayward, a diocese attorney, said no decisions have been made on which ones to fight in court and which might be settled.
w Of the $1.1 million the allegations have cost the diocese, more than half, or $693,515, was for legal fees. Another $232,917 was for pastoral care and counseling for victims, and the remaining $180,750 was for settlements.
Bishop Blair said the money comes from a self-insurance fund and not directly from the “regular collection plate.” Still, he conceded that the fund comes out of operating costs, and those costs are covered, in part, by donations.
The report did not include lay leaders who were accused of wrongdoing nor did it include clergy who were accused of wrongdoing by adult victims.
In prepared comments, the bishop yesterday called the Toledo diocese s numbers “consistent” with reports that other dioceses have been releasing in the last few weeks.
The 36 clerics accounted for just 2 percent of the 1,753 who have served the diocese since 1950, he noted.
“I cannot fail to mention the cross that has been borne by the 98 percent of our clergy who have never committed any act of sexual abuse,” he said.
Claudia Vercelotti called the numbers “completely incomplete and misleading.”
The local co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the church has engaged in a pattern of cover-up and half-truths for years. By the church s own accounting, the numbers would mean each abuser had just two victims, she noted.
“We know that child molesters don t stop spontaneously,” she said. “They don t have just two victims.”
She said she has talked to dozens of victims who accuse at least 42 church leaders of molesting them.
A 2002 series by The Blade, “Shame, Sin, and Secrets,” listed 24 church clerics accused of sexually assaulting minors and women and uncovered a routine practice of simply transferring the priest, ordering counseling, or allowing him to step down quietly.
Only after it faced public outrage after the Boston scandal did the local diocese begin to admit its problems, Ms. Vercelotti noted.
In March, 2002, Frank DiLallo, case manager for the diocese, told The Blade, “Two priests in the history of our diocese were diagnosed as pedophiles.
“The cases that are coming up are around these two priests and continue to be around these two priests.” Three others, he said, were involved with “improprieties” with adults or older teens, he said at the time.
Later that year, then-Bishop James Hoffman told The Blade that the church had spent $469,584.02 to cover “settlements, pastoral care, and legal fees” from cases since 1981.
The $1.1 million announced yesterday covered cases that may have dated as far back as 1950.
“They re piece-mealing numbers,” Ms. Vercelotti said. “Tell me why I, why should anyone, believe them now?”
Asked why the numbers should be believed, Bishop Blair sighed.
“If people don t believe you, how do you make them believe you?” he said. “All I can say is that we ve made every effort to get people to come forward, every effort to get this objective outside professional assistance.”
Though the bishop did not offer names during the news conference, the Rev. Michael Billian, episcopal vicar for administration, confirmed that at least 23 were names that already had been made public through lawsuits or The Blade.
Four others were priests from nondiocesan religious orders, and two more were exonerated.
One is currently under investigation by the church, though he could face no criminal prosecution because the statute of limitations has expired, Father Billian said.
The remaining priests are dead, and Father Billian would not identify them.
Both the bishop and Father Billian expressed confidence in the current clerics.
“I m confident that those in the diocese now have [faced] no past allegations,” Father Billian told The Blade in a later interview.
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