How extensive are clergy sexual abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of San Francisco?
As Pope Francis indicated, even one case of abuse is monstrous. The three-year window established by California’s Child Victims Act – also known as Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) – which temporarily set aside the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims to file claims, closed on December 31, 2022. This “lookback window” opened a three-year period for those of any age to revive past claims that may have been prohibited from being filed as lawsuits because the legal time limit to bring such claims—known as the statute of limitations—had run out.
Since AB-218 was signed into law in 2019, there have been more than 500 lawsuits filed alleging sexual abuse associated with clergy, volunteers or those who work for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. These cases date back more than 50 years, and a vast majority of those being accused are dead. In addition to deceased individuals who can no longer respond to these claims or defend themselves, a great number of these allegations include names of alleged abusers who are unknow to the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
While it is critically important to ensure justice for victim survivors, it is also important to protect the reputations of priests who have been falsely accused. A 2004 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that of the 109,664 priests ordained between 1950 and 2002 at the 195 dioceses studied (98% of all those in the United States), 4,392, or 4.4%, were accused of child sexual abuse, a figure Newsweek said was comparable to the rate of abuse in the general population. The John Jay Report found abuse cases increased during the 1960s and reached a peak during the 1970s before declining in the 1980s and further in the 90s—findings that mirror the Archdiocese own analysis of 3,832 personnel files of priests working at the Archdiocese between 1950 and 2019. Only 2.3% of the priests were accused of sexual abuse, 90% of the incidents occurring prior to 2002.
As a result of the diligent work and dedication of the Office of Child and Youth Protection staff and the clergy and lay faithful who participate in the program, new cases of clergy sexual abuse are rare today in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Yet, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect children, report allegations and remove perpetrators from ministry.