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Church’s Troubles Grow as Priest Sex Scandal Shows No Signs of Waning

With the priest sex abuse scandal showing little sign of waning, the Archdiocese of Boston faces a bleak financial future, church officials announced last Monday. According to church documents, the last year has been plagued by substantial declines in the number of active priests (many removed for alleged child abuse), attendance at weekly Mass, and contributions. Results from an annual archdiocesan survey showed a 14 percent drop in Mass attendance to less than 300,000 in a region boasting 2.1 million Catholics. With fundraising campaigns falling embarrassingly short—by about 30 to 50 percent, according to the Boston Globe, many pastors predict the closure of 30 to 40 parishes. Abuse claims—filed by more than 500 people—are expected to cost over $100 million to settle.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Boston finally consented to a second meeting on Tuesday with the lay Catholic group Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). Founded amidst the sex abuse scandal last year as a global organization representing “a group of concerned Catholics who love the church, and want nothing more than to help build the church up,” according to interim executive director Steve Krueger, VOTF waited nearly 10 months before Cardinal Law met with them in November. The meeting this week centered on survivors’ outreach. VOTF President Jim Post also presented the archdiocese with a $30,000 donation; however, Bishop Richard Lennon has not decided whether to accept, according to the Associated Press.

In New Hampshire, where the diocese was the first to admit criminal wrongdoing and settle with state prosecutors, the state attorney general and diocese earlier this month released separate investigative reports on the sex scandal. Focused around eight priests, the documents detailed repeated church mishandlings where the diocese was aware of child sexual abuse but failed to report in accordance with state law. Currently, two of the eight accuses priests are serving prison time.

California’s statute of limitations was lifted for one year beginning January 1, 2003. State legislators introduced bills in both chambers that would extend the deadline for filing criminal priest sex abuse charges. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles—claiming First Amendment rights—has persistently opposed full public disclosure of church documents. However, plaintiffs’ attorneys suspect the tactic is meant to hinder prosecution. One plaintiff’s attorney John C. Manly, told the New York Times, “Even if you assume that they really believe this privilege is true and necessary, which I don’t, the First Amendment does not protect or shield criminal conduct in this context.” Without passage of the legislation, criminal charges against several priests and former clerics would expire within the next three months, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Media Resources: NY Times 2/28/03, 3/4/03, 3/11/03; Associated Press 3/4/03, 3/11/03; Boston Globe 3/5/03; LA Times 3/13/03; Feminist Daily News

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