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A recent national survey of clergy sexual abuse reports found that 683 allegations were made against Catholic clergy in the U.S. last year, nine of which originated in the Diocese of Rapid City and dated from 30 to 45 years ago.

The majority of the Rapid City diocese’s allegations were made in connection with the litigation involving a Catholic boarding school for Native American students at St. Francis, a Jesuit-run mission on the Rosebud Reservation that was staffed by the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, according to the Rev. Steve Biegler, diocese administrator. None of the nine allegations involved any priests currently serving in the western South Dakota diocese and two were against a diocesan priest who has been dead for 40 years, he said. One of the 2010 allegations concerned an alleged incident in another diocese with a priest of that diocese. “However, since it was reported to personnel in this diocese, it was therefore included in our audit numbers,” Biegler said in email to the Journal.

Nationally, 30 current-year allegations involving people who were minors in 2010 were among the 683 reports. The rest were allegations that date mostly from 1960 to 1984 but which were reported to the church for the first time in 2010, according to a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a para-church organization based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The survey is done in conjunction with the annual independent audit commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to ascertain how well the 195 U.S. dioceses  and eparchies, which are dioceses associated with Eastern rite churches in the U.S., complied with its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. That charter was enacted by the bishops in 2002 to address the abuse scandal and the diocese of Rapid City has had similar guidelines in place since 1993.

Of the 30 current-year cases, eight were found to be credible allegations; three were still under investigation; seven were determined to be false allegations and 12 were defined as “boundary violations” that don’t rise to the level of sexual misconduct. Examples of boundary violations include kissing girls on top of the head or inappropriate hugging and knee patting.  The majority of the 653 historical allegations originated in the years 1970 to 1974. They were made against 574 priests and eight deacons. About 85 percent of all 2010 allegations were described as credible by investigators.

The Diocese of Sioux Falls did not respond as of Wednesday to a request to release its 2010 audit or survey results. It isn’t known if any of the current or the historical allegations came from that diocese. Robert Brancato, director of the South Dakota SNAP chapter, encouraged all dioceses to release their 2010 audits. “Only through true transparency can the healing begin,” Brancato said.

The Rapid City diocese was one of 24 dioceses that had parish-level audits and interviews conducted by independent auditors. 

“We volunteered to have a parish audit in keeping with our practice of cooperation and transparency. Two parishes were visited and were found to be in compliance,” Biegler said.

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Last year, 55 dioceses, including Rapid City, received letters expressing concerns about record-keeping and reporting procedures that could result in non-compliance. Auditors recommended that increased opportunities for student safe environment training be offered in western South Dakota parishes, but it also found that the diocese was in full compliance with the charter, Biegler said.

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The national survey numbers involved priests, deacons and other clerics from dioceses and religious orders. The bishops’ conference audit deals only with diocesan personnel, not religious orders. The number of new credible allegations against diocesan clergy rose by 8 percent from 2009 to 2010. Of the 428 new allegations reported last year against diocesan clergy, only seven involved children who were under the age of 18 in 2010. The remaining 421 allegations were made by adults who are alleging abuse when they were minors, the report said.

But the number of alleged diocesan offenders increased by 20 percent -- to 345 in 2010 from 286 in 2009 – and total monetary costs related to clergy sexual abuse rose by 25 percent to more than $123.7 million. U.S. dioceses paid out nearly $70.4 million in legal settlements in 2010, an increase of 28 percent over 2009. Legal fees increased by 18 percent, to almost $34 million. Those numbers are down considerably from the peak years of 2005 to 2008, when clergy abuse costs totaled nearly $500 million some years.

Religious orders had 77 new credible allegations made against 60 priests and brothers that came to light in 2010, but all of them were alleged to have occurred prior to 2010.

Two dioceses: Baker, Oregon, and Lincoln, Neb., refused to participate in the 2010 audit. Five eparchies also failed to participate.

Contact Mary Garrigan at 394-8424 or mary.garrigan@rapidcityjournal.com

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