Bishops Survey Clergy Sex Abuse Victims

Washington, USA -- The nation's Roman Catholic bishops said Wednesday that they are asking victims of clergy sex abuse around the country to fill out a survey on how church leaders can better help them recover and protect young people from predators in the future.

Through the Web site, the bishops are asking victims to evaluate how diocesan officials responded to their abuse claims, what church leaders could have done better and how they can support victims heal.

"The horrific experience of being sexually abused is best understood by the survivors of this crime," said Archbishop Harry Flynn, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The survey is anonymous, with researchers promising that there will be no way to identify victims who participate. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops' conference, said safeguards have been built in to weed out any fake responses.

The abuse crisis began in January 2002 with the case of one accused priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread throughout the country and beyond. Since then, the bishops have adopted a toughened discipline policy dealing with guilty clergy, enacted child protection and victim outreach plans in dioceses and removed hundreds of accused priests from church work.

However, victim advocates say the bishops generally have failed to meet with the victims in their own dioceses. David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, welcomed the survey, but said church leaders would learn more from face-to-face discussions with victims.

"Our leaders have talked with and listened to dozens and dozens and in some cases hundreds of victims," Clohessy said. "They can provide a deeper, broader perspective."

The survey will be conducted through May 4, with the results expected to be released in June.