DIOCESE OF WILMINGTON DE
By Randall Chase
Dover, Del. - The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington has spent more than $1.5 million to settle claims of child sexual abuse by priests and provide assistance to victims, and once allowed an accused pedophile to return to the ministry after undergoing treatment, Bishop Michael Saltarelli revealed Thursday.
In the Jan. 15 edition of The Dialog, the official diocesan newspaper, Saltarelli wrote that a review of diocesan records for the past 50 years revealed almost 80 allegations of sexual abuse and a total of $1.6 million in settlements and victim assistance payments.
More than half of that total was paid by insurance, with the rest coming from diocesan investment funds. No money from Sunday collections or annual appeals was used, according to Saltarelli. Legal fees incurred by the diocese have totaled about $198,000, and the diocese paid $186,854 from its Priests Retirement and Welfare Fund for treatment of accused pedophiles.
Diocesan officials found 79 allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy dating to the 1950s, with 60 people either identifying themselves as victims or named by relatives as victims.
Diocesan officials said the allegations involved 23 diocesan priests, three priests from other dioceses, and six religious order priests serving in the diocese. The allegations were found to be credible against all but four of the diocesan priests.
"My dear people, I am profoundly saddened to make this report to you," Saltarelli wrote in a letter to the faithful. "I am disturbed and ashamed by the number of priests who were found to have abused minors in the past 50 years. Abuse of a child is a crime and a grave sin. I am deeply distressed by the pain and the anguish suffered by victims and their families. I pray for them every day and I am resolved to help them as best I can."
"... And to you, God's faithful and holy people, I offer again, on behalf of the Church, my apology for the scandal revealed these past couple years. I know that you, too, face regularly the questions and perhaps sometimes ridicule from neighbors, friends, and even family."
Saltarelli released the findings in advance of a report on a survey conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York that was commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The study, to be released in late February, will provide data about sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other church personnel in the United States over the past 50 years.
"In anticipation of that report and in keeping with my commitment to inform you and the public about data gathered in the Diocese of Wilmington on sexual abuse of minors, I want to share with you the results of our own findings," Saltarelli wrote.
Saltarelli said the Wilmington diocese's findings resulted from months of study, research and "painful interviews with victims and their families who have come forward to tell us of the tragic events which have so terribly impacted their lives."
According to the bishop, 19 diocesan priests were found to have substantiated or credible allegations of child sexual abuse. None of the priests is in active ministry today, and nine are dead, Saltarelli said. Allegations against two of the priests involved abuse that occurred in another diocese, before the priest was ordained.
The three priests from other dioceses were found to have substantiated or credible allegations of sexual abuse, although the abuse did not occur in the Wilmington diocese. The priests were removed from ministry in the Wilmington diocese and reported to their respective bishops.
Complaints against the six religious order priests also were found to be credible. The allegations were reported to their superiors, and the priests were removed from ministry in the Wilmington diocese.
Despite a policy in place since 1985 to remove any priest or deacon from ministry after a credible allegation of child sexual abuse, one priest accused in the past 20 years was allowed to return to ministry "based on the circumstances and strong psychiatric recommendations at the time," Saltarelli wrote.
The priest was removed from the ministry after the diocese applied norms recently adopted by the U.S. bishops and approved by the Vatican.
"We continue to take all prudent and necessary steps to prevent
even one more instance of abuse," wrote Saltarelli, who noted that
priests, deacons, teachers, employees and volunteers who have contact
with minors must submit to a criminal background checks.
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