CONCORD, N.H. -- Donations received by the state's Roman Catholic parishes dropped 5 percent last year as the Diocese of Manchester paid millions to settle lawsuits over sexual abuse by priests, an audit released yesterday shows.
The audit indicates the diocese has spent $18.8 million since July 2001 settling claims by 207 people abused by clergymen. That amounts to about 28 percent of all the diocese's assets and dwarfs all previous such payments by the diocese, which covers the state.
The first-ever independent audit of the diocese's finances said more than 40 percent of the payments were covered by insurance; the remainder came from loans and other funds. An additional $12.8 million has been earmarked to pay claims not yet settled or not yet filed, the report said.
The report said donations account for 85 percent of parish revenues. In a statement accompanying the report, church officials said the 5 percent drop in donations for the year that ended June 30 was only partly attributable to the abuse crisis. They said other factors were the poor economy and efforts by some parishes to raise money for special building projects, which they said detract from regular contributions.
Throughout its history, the diocese has paid $20.2 million to abuse victims, the report said. It said all settlements prior to July 2001, with 20 people, totaled $1.4 million. The Rev. Ed Arsenault, a diocesan spokesman, said that cost is passed on to parishioners because the church's primary income is donations, which pay for insurance premiums and interest on loans. But he said no money held in trust by the diocese on behalf of schools and parishes has been used for the settlements.
Arsenault said that in addition to the settlements, the diocese has spent $80,000 on pastoral care and counseling for the victims. The settlement total includes $393,000 spent on legal fees during the scandal.
The report said nearly 80 cents of every dollar parishioners contribute pays for parish operations. The remainder goes to the diocese for both parish and diocesan expenses.