SEX-ABUSE COSTS ARE A growing burden for the U.S. Catholic Church. They pushed the Archdiocese of Chicago, for instance, into a $1.5 million deficit last year. Priests' sexual misconduct cost the nation's second-largest archdiocese $4.3 million in the fiscal year ended June, 1994--up 54% from $2.8 million in 1993.
These cases are certainly hurting the Church everywhere, from Los Angeles, the largest archdiocese, to Santa Fe, N.M. In Chicago, where fiscal reports are among the most detailed, 65% of sex-case costs go to legal claims and settlements.
The situation in Chicago drew special attention last year when Joseph Louis Cardinal Bernardin himself was the target of a sex-abuse complaint. The accuser dropped the charges, admitting that his memories had been wrong. The good news: 1994 may be the peak year because the Archdiocese has started programs to combat the problem.
The increasing sex-case expense in Chicago comes at a bad time. The Archdiocese has fought chronic deficits for most of the past 10 years. While 1994's is down--from a high of $14 million in 1990--Chicago Church officials worry that rising expenses are outpacing revenue so fast that a fiscal crisis looms within four years.