Complaints of sexual abuse by Catholic Church clergy were up 35 percent in 2015, according to an audit of claims and related settlements released Friday.
Between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, 838 people filed complaints saying they had been abused by church personnel while they were children. This is up from 620 complaints filed the year before.
Twenty-six reports were from minors alleging recent abuse, but the majority were claims dating back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The rise in claims dating back decades is partially attributed to bankruptcy proceedings in dioceses around the country that can lead people to file complaints when they otherwise may have kept silent, due to the possibility the diocese would no longer have money to pay out a settlement if the claims were found to be substantiated.
The report was produced by an independent auditor, StoneBridge Business Partners, commissioned to evaluate church compliance with the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This is the 13th year the church has produced the report, which was mandated in 2002 following major revelations of the widespread nature of sexual abuse throughout the church.
Francesco C. Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, the lay body that advises the Church on matters of sexual abuse, warned that the church not become “complacent” in fulfilling its obligation to protect children and properly address complains.
“That the bishops need to guard against such complacency is evident in the fact that in this year’s audit there were 26 reported allegations of sexual abuse of current minors by clergy. By the end of the audit cycle, seven of these allegations were substantiated,” Cesareo wrote in a letter included in the report. “If bishops become complacent, these violations can potentially evolve into a case of sexual abuse. The bishops must each day re-commit themselves to maintaining a level of vigilance that will prevent complacency and the resultant drifting away from a careful implementation of the Charter.”
In the year examined in the audit, the Church spent $153.6 million on settlements, legal fees and other expenses related to claims of sex abuse. This marks a 29 percent increase from a year earlier.
The rise in claims is also believed to be tied to two states – Minnesota and Hawaii – lifting their statute of limitations for sex abuse cases, allowing more potential victims to come forward.