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Clerical sex abuse study stalled by lawsuit fears

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© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2003

Several Roman Catholic dioceses have delayed responding to the most extensive survey yet on priests who molested children until U.S. bishops can discuss concerns that some questions are unfair and that the data could be used in lawsuits against the church.

Bishops ordered the study last year as part of their response to clerical sex abuse. Its aim is to collect statistics on the number of victims and offenders in the American church and the cost of lawsuits and therapy.

But now, with some church leaders balking, the bishops are expected to discuss the survey in a closed-door session next month at their national meeting in St. Louis.

"Like many other bishops throughout the country, Archbishop (John) Myers and the auxiliary bishops in Newark feel that the specific elements of this survey, and its purposes, should be discussed at the St. Louis meeting before any final participation," Myers' spokesman, James Goodness, said Thursday.

William Burleigh of the National Review Board, a watchdog panel of lay people appointed by the bishops, said names will be omitted so the statistics cannot be linked to specific dioceses. The board is overseeing the study.

"This is going to be a nationwide look at the numbers," Burleigh said.

Of the 195 U.S. dioceses, about 120 have submitted at least a partial response to the survey, said Burleigh, board chairman of E.W. Scripps Co.

The survey is being conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and is meant strictly to provide figures showing the extent of the problem over the last 50 years, the Review Board said.

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