Two church-sanctioned studies documenting sex abuse by U.S. Roman Catholic clergy say that about 4 percent of clerics have been accused of molesting minors since 1950 and blame bishops' "moral laxity" in disciplining offenders for letting the problem worsen.
The Diocese of Yakima, Wash., said in a news release that a survey compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found 4,392 of the 109,694 clergy who served over that five-decade period faced allegations of abuse. The survey was overseen by the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel the bishops formed at the height of the molestation crisis.
The review board had a Friday morning news conference scheduled in Washington to discuss the John Jay report and a companion study that examines the causes of the abuse troubles.
A source who has read both documents told the AP on condition of anonymity that the causes report places much of the blame on bishops. It says their "moral laxity" created an atmosphere that allowed the abuse problem to fester.
Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to the John Jay study. 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 proved to be unsubstantiated, the diocesan news release said.
The national report also tallied abuse-related costs at $533.4 million.
The causes report acknowledges 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, there have been widespread reports of bishops who sheltered abusers and the review board used harsh language to criticize churchmen who failed to act. It said these bishops were guilty of "neglect" and insensitivity toward victims that allowed the "smoke of Satan" to enter the church, the source said.
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.
The Rev. Andrew Greeley, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, put the number at 4 percent. Psychologist Richard Sipe, a former monk who researches sexuality in the priesthood, said it could be as high as 5 percent.
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 prelates said they wanted to undertake the investigation to demonstrate their willingness to confront abuse in the church.
Victims, however, say the bishops acted only under intense public pressure and said any study by the church is bound to underestimate the number of abuse cases.
David Gibson, author of "The Coming Catholic Church," said parishioners will respond positively to the bishops' willingness to undergo this examination only if they follow up with action.
"It will only help if the bishops respond to this report by amending their behavior," Gibson said. "People want to see some changes in the system. They want to see more openness, more accountability, transparency."
In Boston, where the national crisis began with the case of rogue priest John Geoghan, officials said Thursday that 162 archdiocesan priests - about 7 percent of those who served over the last half-century - had been accused of abuse.
But plaintiffs' attorney Mitchell Garabedian scoffed at the count.
"We have an entity here that has allowed the wholesale sexual abuse of children by clergy, and to allow them to count the numbers just doesn't make any sense," he said. "There is a huge credibility problem here."
Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios in Spokane, Wash., contributed to this report.