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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 January 2005, 18:35 GMT
Church sex scandals' heavy legacy
By Robert Pigott
BBC religious affairs correspondent

The agreement of a Roman Catholic diocese to pay $100m (53m) in compensation to victims of sex abuse takes the Church in America past another milestone in the settlement of its long drawn out scandal.

Senior Catholic churchmen
Several US archdioceses had to file for bankruptcy over the scandals
The fact that the Diocese of Orange, in Los Angeles, is spending so much in meeting the claims of only 90 people, with another 544 cases outstanding there, gives an idea of the crippling financial burden on the Church.

Lawyers working on the litigation say abuse could eventually cost $1bn.

Other dioceses have found the price of abuse more than they can manage.

The Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon filed for bankruptcy last July. Tucson in Arizona and Spokane in Washington chose to follow suit.

The Archdiocese of Portland has begun an advertising campaign, calling on anyone abused by priests there to come forward, as part of the bankruptcy procedure.

The story is far from over. A report published last February by a committee of inquiry showed that more than 4,000 Roman Catholic priests had been credibly accused of abuse since 1950.

There were more than 10,000 victims, mostly boys.

Fewer donations

Groups representing those assaulted by priests and church workers insist there could be thousands more.

They say it can take decades for victims of abuse to come forward, and that the average age is 44.

It may be some time before the Church in America recovers the prestige and authority lost since the scandal unfolded

People often wait for their parents to die, thinking that to reveal the abuse would shame and disillusion them needlessly. For its part the Church in America says the abuse crisis broke out suddenly and then died rapidly away.

However, the scandal's legacy could be profound, because it comes at a time of upheaval for the Church. There is already restiveness among American Catholics over the Church's reluctance to give lay people - especially woman - a greater role, and rebellion over the Vatican's stern line on contraception.

The sex abuse scandal is likely to produce greater pressure for a review even of the compulsory celibacy of priests.

There could be physical changes too. Congregations are declining in many dioceses, and the supply of priests dwindling.

Falling collections

The large compensation payments - coupled with the move of Roman Catholics to the suburbs - have already forced the Archdiocese of Boston to close a sixth of its parishes.

Boston - one of the four largest archdioceses in the US with an estimated two million Catholics - has paid almost as much in compensation as Orange.

Since the scandal first broke in Boston, churches there have been getting significantly less in the collection plate.

As part of the settlement in Orange, Bishop Tod Brown is to make a personal apology to each person assaulted by a priest, nun or church worker.

Bishop Brown told a press conference he knew that the victims had already begun their healing process.

However it may be some time before the Church in America recovers the prestige and authority lost since the scandal unfolded.



SEE ALSO:
US diocese makes $100m abuse deal
04 Jan 05 |  Americas
US Catholic diocese settles suits
03 Dec 04 |  Americas
Pope warns of US priest shortage
26 Nov 04 |  Americas
Sex claims bankrupt US archdiocese
07 Jul 04 |  Americas
Massive church closures in Boston
27 May 04 |  Americas
Vatican bars US sex abuse priest
07 May 04 |  Americas
Timeline: US Catholic sex scandal
07 Jul 04 |  Americas


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