US abuse crisis past peak

For the second year running, the number of clergy sex abuse claims received by US bishops has declined, indicating that what has been described as the worst scandal to strike American Catholicism may be past its peak.

The International Herald Tribune reports that settlement negotiations are under way in Los Angeles for the largest remaining batch of clergy sex abuse lawsuits.

Polls have shown greater trust in America's bishops than a few years ago. There is even been a fundraising recovery in the city at the epicenter of the worst scandal to ever strike American Catholicism in Boston.

Five years after a national abuse scandal there that culminated in the resignation of its archbishop over the cover-up, and that triggered a long season of reflection, the church is moving out of crisis mode.

That is not to say the scandal is over, the Herald-Tribune says. Earlier this year, San Diego became the fifth diocese to seek bankruptcy protection. And the financial implications of a huge settlement in Los Angeles, the largest US archdiocese, could be far-reaching.

On the other hand, the paper says, if a settlement in the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars is worked out, it will be placed near the end of a list of American Catholic dioceses coming to financial terms with victims of clergy sexual abuse, not the beginning.

"I think the crisis mode is over, and I think that's a good thing," said Robert S. Bennett, a Washington, DC, lawyer and former member of the National Review Board, a panel of lay Catholics formed by US bishops in 2002 in response to the scandal.

"The risk it presents is people will get comfortable, and won't be alert and won't be as responsive."

Other developments support the view that the scandal's hold on American Catholic life is loosening.

First, the number of clergy sex abuse claims received by the nation's Catholic bishops and religious orders declined in 2006, the second consecutive year those numbers have gone down, according to a report this spring. Even the claims newly brought to light for the most part involve decades-old events, the report said.

Secondly, donations to the Boston Archdiocese's annual Catholic Appeal, after a period of decline, increased by 15 percent in fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2006. Nationally, average gifts to annual appeals fell slightly as the scandal spread, then jumped 13 percent in 2006, according to a survey by the International Catholic Stewardship Council.

Thirdly, a survey conducted in October 2005 found 74 percent of Catholics were either "somewhat" or "very" satisfied with U.S. bishops' leadership, up from 57 percent in January 2003, according to the Georgetown University Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

U.S. Catholic abuse crisis starts to fade (International Herald Tribune, 12/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
US Catholic Bishops

LA archdiocese sells chancery to fund settlements (CathNews, 17/5/07)
LA Archdiocese settles abuse claims for $A75 million (CathNews, 4/12/07)
LA Cardinal calls sex abuse scandal a 'purification' (CathNews, 2/4/02)

13 Jul 2007