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Thousands Claim Priest Abuse

Two unprecedented studies that document pervasive sex abuse by U.S. Roman Catholic clergy found nearly 11,000 minors have claimed they were molested since 1950, and that bishops bear much of the responsibility for the crisis. One document says their failure to stop predators let the "smoke of Satan" into the church.

The studies — commissioned by America's bishops — found that 80 percent of the alleged victims were male and that just over half said they were between ages 11 and 14 when they were assaulted, a source who read the reports told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The abuse claims were filed against 4,392 of the 109,694 clergy who served over the last half-century — or about 4 percent of all clerics.

The National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel formed by the bishops, was scheduled to release the reports Friday in Washington. One is the church's first national accounting of molestation claims and was conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The other is the board's own investigation into how the crisis developed.

The John Jay findings are based on information provided by most of the 195 American dioceses. Victims said any study by the church is bound to underestimate the number of abuse cases and that many of those who were hurt still haven't come forward.

Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to a news release from the Diocese of Yakima, Wash. Of those, claims by approximately 6,700 were substantiated. About 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen were dead.

Another 1,000 or so claims were unsubstantiated, the diocese said.

The national report also calculated abuse-related costs such as litigation and counseling at $533.4 million. However, the John Jay report covered claims up through 2002, and many multimillion-dollar settlements have been reached since then.

The AP has been tracking reports from individual bishops of their own tallies of abuse costs and so far, 137 dioceses have already said they spent more than $573.3 million to address the problem.

The report on the causes of the crisis was based on interviews with clergy, victims, experts on sex offenders and others who have studied molestation.

The findings are sure to fuel debate among Catholics on two controversial issues: whether the church should try to screen out gay priests and whether celibacy for clergy should be optional.

The board said celibacy was not a cause of the scandal, but that the celibacy requirement may have attracted candidates for the priesthood who were seeking an escape from their sexual problems.

The board came to no direct conclusions about whether gays should be ordained, the source said.

The panel noted that any evaluation of the crisis had to take into account that much of the abuse involved men preying on boys, the source said. And the report said that church leaders' failure to discipline sexually active priests created an environment that made clerics reluctant to report abuse of children.

The board acknowledged that some bishops recognized the gravity of the problem early on and spent years lobbying the Vatican to change church law so they could move faster against abusers.

The study also said the bishops were sometimes ill-served by the therapists and lawyers they sought out for guidance.

Still, the report concluded many bishops were guilty of "neglect" and insensitivity toward victims that allowed the "smoke of Satan" to enter the church, the source said.

The bishops have apologized repeatedly for any wrongdoing and have enacted several reforms to protect children since the long-simmering abuse problem erupted more than two years ago in Boston. The discipline policy they adopted in June 2002 bars sex offenders from all public ministry.

The bishops authorized the new, landmark studies to restore trust in their leadership. No other profession or religious group has exposed itself to such scrutiny on the abuse issue, even though molestation is an acknowledged problem among coaches, teachers and clergy of other faiths.

The raw numbers of abuse claims and accused clergy are higher than previous attempts by the media and victims groups to tally them, though slightly lower than figures in a draft report viewed by CNN earlier this month.

Estimates of the number of guilty clerics have varied dramatically over the years. Church officials have said anywhere between 1 percent and 3 percent of clergy abused minors, while projections by outside experts ranged from 4 percent to 5 percent.

The scandal has hard far-reaching consequences for the church. The financial repercussions have forced some dioceses to consider selling their property.

High-ranking officials have lost their posts, like former Boston archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law. One former priest jailed for rampant abuse, John Geoghan, was killed in prison.

Congregants have withheld donations or formed lay reform movements like Voice of the Faithful, which is challenging church hierarchy on its administration and finances.

"This report does not promise closure but a better understanding among all Catholics, clergy and laity alike, of where we must go from here," Voice of the Faithful said in a statement.

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