WASHINGTON (AFP) — The Roman Catholic church in the United States paid out 615 million dollars (400 million euros) last year for child sex abuse cases involving members of the clergy, or 54 percent more than the previous year, an official report showed Friday.
Of the monies paid out by the church, 526 million dollars went to settling cases -- almost double the amount paid out in 2006, the annual report on how well the church is implementing a charter to protect youngsters said.
Around 23 million dollars was paid out for therapy for victims or support for accused offenders, and 60 million dollars for legal fees, said the report, which was commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The report showed that 689 new allegations of abuse were lodged last year -- three percent fewer than in 2006 -- but most involved cases dating back decades.
Most victims were male, and more than half were between the ages of 10 and 14 when the abuse began.
While the number of new allegations has declined from 2004 to 2007, costs related to allegations increased in the same period, the report said.
Between 2006 and 2007 alone, "expenditure related to allegations increased by 54 percent," due mainly to a near-doubling of the amount paid out for settlements in 2007, it said, showing that other pay-outs had fallen.
The annual report tracks progress made in implementing the Charter for the Protection of Children, which was adopted by the bishops in 2002 after the church was plunged into crisis when the Archbishop of Boston confessed that he had protected a priest he knew had sexually abused young members of his church.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB, said in a statement Friday that child protection was a priority for the bishops, and praised them for "working diligently to implement the Charter."
But Terry McKiernan, president of the organization Bishop Accountability, which documents the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic church, said the report by the bishops was opaque and fudged the number of clergymen who have been accused of sexually abusing children.
"Because the report is only counting and not actually naming the priests, we are not able to determine which of these allegations pertain to priests already accused and which pertain to new priests," McKiernan told AFP by phone from Boston.
"This is nowhere near a complete accounting from the bishops conference, but it's better than nothing," he said.
McKiernan estimated that more than 5,000 priests out of nearly 41,500 across the United States have been denounced for sexually abusing children since the 1950s.
"We know that the number is considerably over 5,000 now, and that, on the basis of annual adjustments since the John Jay report came out in 2004," McKiernan said.
A report commissioned in 2004 by the USCCB from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Washington found that nearly 4,400 priests had been accused of abuse.
This year's progress report was published just weeks before Pope Benedict XVI was due to visit the United States.
The visit next month will take him to New York and Washington, but not Boston.
"It's hard to not read the visit to New York, where there is a real hold-out among the American episcopate -- Archbishop Edward Egan, who has been very restrictive about information that might get out about this -- as a reward, and the skipping of Boston as expressing a desire not to confront the issue," said McKiernan.
"I don't hope for any gestures on the part of the pope," he added.
"Remedies are going to come through the legal system, not through the church."
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