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Letter from Archbishop Pilarczyk

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Over the past two years we have all become more aware of the sad reality that sexual abuse of children and young people is a significant problem in the Church, just as it is in society as a whole. I am sorry that any priest has ever abused anyone, and equally sorry that we did not deal with these priests in ways that we now believe appropriate.

In July 2002, I joined with other bishops of the United States in voting for new Church law that requires the removal from ministry of any priest against whom there is a credible allegation of abuse, and makes that removal permanent if that accusation is substantiated. I have enforced that law in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

The John Jay Report

The bishops also promised to seek a deeper understanding of the nature and scope of clerical child abuse. As part of that effort, the National Review Board, established by the United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops, commissioned John Jay College of Criminal Justice to survey each of the 195 dioceses, archdioceses and eparchies of the United States to provide an unflinching statistical portrait of child abuse by priests since 1950.

The study, to be released Friday, February 27, 2004 is unparalleled. No other organization has done anything similar to this. That means, of course, that there will be no basis for comparison of church statistics with those of other institutions whose agents also come into close contact with children.

Archdiocesan Figures 1950-2002

After reviewing records, we have established that 33 priests of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati were accused of 87 instances of child abuse from 1950 to 2002, including one case in which the sole accusation – against Cardinal Bernardin – was later withdrawn. This number also includes anonymous allegations and allegations that could not be substantiated. During that period, 827 diocesan priests served in the Archdiocese. We don’t know how the percentage of offenders compares to society at large, or to any other segment of society. What we know is that the only acceptable percentage of priests abusing children is zero.

Of the priests accused in the 1950-2002 period, twelve were placed on administrative leave pending possible permanent removal from ministry, eleven are deceased, two voluntarily sought laicization, one was dismissed from the clerical state, and seven were the subject of accusations that were investigated and determined to be without substance.

It is often unclear in what year the abuse happened. It appears, however, that about two-thirds of the reported incidents occurred between 1975 and 1984.

Between 1950 and 2002, the Archdiocese spent a total of about $2,700,000 on expenses related to child abuse by priests – settlements and counseling to help the victims, counseling for priests, and related legal fees.

These are the figures we submitted for the John Jay Report. They cover the years 1950-2002.

2003 Figures

In 2003, a total of 81 new child abuse complaints were brought forward against previously accused priests. There were also another 20 accusations against as many as 16 priests not previously accused.

Of the priests accused for the first time in 2003, three are now on administrative leave, seven are deceased, one was laicized, three were not identified by the accuser, one left the ministry many years ago without formal laicization and is now deceased according to the attorney who presented the allegation, and one was the subject of an accusation that was investigated and found to be without substance.

In 2003, the Archdiocese spent about $716,000 on expenses related to child abuse by priests. As part of an agreement with the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney, the Archdiocese in 2003 also committed $3,000,000 to compensate the victims of child abuse by any archdiocesan representative, no matter when that abuse happened. A panel of three highly respected individuals is administering that fund. The money came from sales of property and other general revenues available, not from the parish weekly collection basket, not from the Archbishop’s Annual Fund Drive, not from any other targeted collection. This was also true of earlier expenditures.


Child abuse is both a sickness and a moral failing, but it is also a crime. In addition to taking action against a priest who has been credibly accused of child abuse, the Archdiocese will forward to the appropriate civil authorities any allegations of child abuse that come to our attention, no matter when the abuse is said to have happened. This is true not only in Hamilton County but in all 19 counties of the Archdiocese.

I want to remind you, however, that priests are entitled to the same presumption of innocence as anyone accused of a crime. And I want to assure you that under Church law, as under U.S. secular law, accused priests have rights to due process.

Victims and Prevention

Now I would like to say something about those most affected by child abuse – the victims.

Even before the adoption of our first Decree on Child Abuse in 1993, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati long made it a practice to extend pastoral care to the survivors of child abuse. I have met with many victims, and I will meet with any others who wish to meet with me. In addition, the Archdiocese has often paid for counseling to help victims. In some cases the Archdiocese also reached settlements. To my knowledge, these settlements never included a prohibition on the victim reporting the abuse to legal authorities or to anyone else.

Some victims feel that we have not done enough. I agree – because I don’t think we can ever do enough. There is no way to fully repair damage done to a child.

While we continue to deal with the child abuse in the past, the Archdiocese remains focused on preventing abuse now and in the future. I believe that the policies, procedures and recommendations in the Decree on Child Abuse of 1993 and its updates of 1998 and 2003 have contributed to a safe environment for children of the Archdiocese for more than a decade. If you have not been trained in the provisions of this decree as a volunteer or employee, I urge you to familiarize yourself with them. You may obtain a copy of the decree on the Web at or by calling the Office of the Chancellor at (513) 421-3131.

The Future

I am sure that many of you are wondering, “When will all of this end?” I don’t know the answer to that. I cannot promise you that there will not be new accusations in the future. I can only promise that we will continue to enforce our Decree on Child Protection, that we will continue to try to make it better, and that we will remove from ministry any priest, deacon, lay employee or volunteer against whom there is a credible allegation.

Please continue to pray for me and for my collaborators in ministry that we have wisdom and strength in dealing with this challenge in the years ahead. And pray that the Lord will give us the faith and hope we need to see His hand in all this.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Daniel E. Pilarczyk
Archbishop of Cincinnati