The Bottom Line

Will church finances be the next scandal?

The release later this month of a much-anticipated survey quantifying a half-century of clergy sexual abuse of minors is sure to be another blow to American Catholics, even as it serves as a necessary purgative for a lingering crisis that surfaced more than two years ago. In a wise effort to prepare his audience for the bad news, Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and prime mover behind the report, has warned that the total number of priests and victims tallied in the report will be “startling” and “painful.”

Yet the February 27 survey of most of the nation’s 195 dioceses, produced by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will also reinforce the fact that the scandal has two interconnected natures—one sexual, the other financial. Not only will the report detail the number of priests accused of abusing minors and the number of victims over fifty years, it will also put an overall price tag on the debacle. Some believe the bill could approach or even surpass the billion-dollar benchmark that has been floated by the hierarchy’s toughest critics.

Whatever the tally, the gross figure will certainly stick in the minds of U.S. Catholics, who for the past two years have often focused their fury on the enormous amount of money, much of it supplied by lay people, paid out to cover up cases of abuse. This is not to say that Catholics care...

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.