Records: 14 Credible Abuse Claims Against MS Priests In Past

Published: Feb. 12, 2004 at 10:20 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 13, 2004 at 12:19 PM CST

Credible accusations have been made against 14 priests of sexual misconduct with children in Mississippi's two Catholic dioceses from 1950-2002, according to information provided by the dioceses for a nationwide survey.

Ten priests were from the Diocese of Jackson, four from the Diocese of Biloxi. None is currently in active ministry.

The dioceses prepared the information for a survey commissioned by the national church from the John Jay College of Justice. It is a nationwide accounting of abuse claims and costs to the country's 195 dioceses.

The report is scheduled for release Feb. 27.

The Jackson diocese, in a prepared statement to The Associated Press, said a number of other accusations have been made against clergy working in the diocese. Two allegations were found to be "incredulous'' and one was inconclusive, the statement said.

A total number of accusations - credible, not credible and inconclusive - has not been calculated, said Steve Carmody, a diocesan lawyer.

Nearly $96,000 was paid by the Jackson diocese from 1981 to mid-2002 for counseling to victims, and $13,679 was paid in legal fees for that period, the diocese said. Detailed financial records before 1981 could not be found, according to the diocese.

The Biloxi diocese says in the 26 years of the diocese's existence, there have been substantiated accusations made against four priests involving eight victims. A total of $14,000 has been paid by the diocese for counseling to assist victims, the diocese said.

"It is a tragedy that innocent victims have suffered so deeply. It is also a tragedy that 2 percent of the clergy have tarnished the reputations of the other 98 percent. The overwhelming percentage of clergy are good men of God who deserve our thanks and our support,'' Bishop Thomas J. Rodi said in a written statement to the AP.

The Biloxi diocese did not release the number of unsubstantiated claims of abuse.

In a recent survey of dioceses conducted by AP, 80 of 195 diocese reported that 1,341 clergy members have been accused of molesting minors. Those 80 said they have spent $186.1 million to settle or litigate cases, fund counseling or cover expenses.

Mark Belenchia, co-coordinator of the Mississippi branch of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he believes the survey is a good beginning. But, he said, while the church is focused on spit-shining its public image, it continues to fight legal challenges by claiming church autonomy and statute of limitations as defenses.

Belenchia and an anonymous plaintiff alleged sexual abuse at the hands of priests in the Jackson diocese. Their lawsuit was dismissed last year after a judge ruled time had run out for them to file suit.

"People have been raped, sodomized and their lives ruined. (Church leaders) don't want to have a discussion with them,'' Belenchia said.

Both Mississippi dioceses last month were found to be compliant with church policies meant to keep priests from sexually abusing children.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)