Sexual Abuse Victim Reacts to Survey About Catholic Priest Crisis

FEBRUARY 17, 2004 -- Posted at: 10:40pm

JONESBORO, AR -- A new report shows children accuse more than 4,000 priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002. Robert Wilford took his story to the media in 2002, after decades of silence. He knows there are many more just like him, who still haven't had the courage to come forward with their stories.

"I think there's been over a million kids abused by a priest since our inception in the first century," said Wilford.

The director of The Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests agrees with Wilford: the numbers released in the survey commissioned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are low.

Wilford explained, "That doesn't count the number of times a priest has probably gone to confession and said he abused a child, and it was not reported. It doesn't take into consideration that at the age of 18, they probably quit counting that as abuse."

The report conducted by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice is based on church records from across the nation. It finds that children made more than 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse.

"I've had five people all around the country contact me about this priest victimizing them also," Wilford said of the Priest who abused him in Alabama in the 1960s.

According to the findings, 6,700 of the 11,000 allegations were investigated and validated. Another 1,000 were unsubstantiated. The remaining 3,000 were not investigated, because the priests involved were dead when the allegations were made.

More than half of the priests had one allegation against them. 25% had two or three claims made, and 13% had four to nine. The remaining 3% had 10 or more claims filed against them.

"This priest had served in 5 or 6 different parishes," explained Robert Wilford. "He had been a high school teacher in Birmingham. He had been a hospital chaplain, and normally when someone's moving around that much, if you read all the statistics now, that was the way that they was protecting him."

The priest who abused Wilford was forced to retire on June 1, 2002, and he can no longer present himself as a priest.

The bishop's conference asked that the survey be conducted in order to get a better understanding of the scope of the crisis. Robert Wilford doesn't think a true total number of victims will ever be known. He's writing a book to try to help those who may still not be able to get help themselves.

"My family is strong, and we're much stronger for this, so if I can share a little bit of that, then in essence if it helps just one child, then it's well worth it," said Wilford.

He hopes to have his book on store shelves within a year. The full catholic bishops survey is supposed to be released February 27th.