CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Roman Catholic Church and its insurers paid $124 million last year to settle allegations of child sexual abuse, up from $104 million a year earlier, a church-commissioned audit showed on Monday.
There were 428 new allegations of sexual abuse against a minor filed in 2010, seven of which related to child abuse that was said to occur during the year, the U.S. Conference of Bishops said, citing the audit.
The number of claims was 7 percent higher than those lodged in 2009, but half the 2004 peak when 889 people reported abuse deemed by the auditors as credible, the report found.
Of the 345 clergy accused in 2010 of abuse, two-thirds had either already been removed from the ministry or had died, according to the report, based on a survey by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
An abuse scandal erupted in Boston a decade ago and spread across the country, causing the U.S. Catholic Church to adopt a “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and to pay for annual independent audits of claims.
Along with their report, the auditors sent warning notices to 55 of 188 participating dioceses last year, compared with 23 dioceses in 2009, over perceived shortcomings in adhering to the child protection charter.
Shortcomings included allowing clergy barred from ministry to lead public prayers, not monitoring parishes, not keeping track of the “safe environment training” required of priests, and failing to enforce other measures intended to end abuse.
“Bishops are getting worse, not better, with children’s safety,” Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in response to the findings.
“After a decade or more of promises, bishops are still refusing to abide by their own vague, weak policies adopted largely as a public relations move,” she said in a statement.
But Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said child safety principles and actions were being integrated into church life.
“This audit shows the Church’s noteworthy job in keeping its promise to protect and pledge to heal,” she said in a letter accompanying the report.
Pope Benedict last year called for a re-examination of the Church’s message and practices to enable it to learn from the scandal of the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests.
The pope begged forgiveness for the scandal, which has shaken the Catholic Church and set off protests around the world. But there have been repeated calls from groups representing abuse victims for more to be done.
Total abuse settlements paid by the U.S. church are approaching $3 billion. The 2010 payments were well below the record annual outlay of $499 million to settle cases in 2007.
Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Laura Macinnis