Pay-outs by the US Roman Catholic church for child abuse cases involving clergy members fell to a six-year low last year but remained in the nine-figure range, an annual US report tracking clergy sex abuse of minors said Tuesday.
Nearly 400 new, credible allegations of clergy sex abuse were reported in 2009, said the report, which comes as the Roman Catholic church struggles to deal with thousands of alleged sex offenses by clerics against children in Europe and South America.
In the United States, the Roman Catholic church paid out 104,439,629 dollars last year in costs related to sex abuse cases, more than half of the money -- 55 million dollars -- in settlements for victims, the report showed.
The 193 dioceses around the United States that provided data for the report said they received 398 new credible allegations last year of sexual abuse committed by priests and deacons against children.
The vast majority dated from decades ago, but six involved children who were under the age of 18 in 2009.
The numbers of new cases and the pay-outs were down sharply from the 620 child victims of clergy sex abuse and pay-outs of 436 million dollars reported last year.
More than half of the 286 priests and deacons identified as alleged sex offenders in the 2009 report had been accused in earlier reports, the data which were put together by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), based at Georgetown University in Washington, show.
The largest chunk of last year's victims -- 215 of them -- were aged 10-14 when the alleged abuse began. Sixty-one alleged victims were younger than 10.
Most of the new allegations concern alleged sex abuse that began between 1960 and 1990, with only a dozen having allegedly been committed since 2000.
The annual review tracks progress made in implementing the Charter for the Protection of Children, which was adopted by US bishops in 2002 after the church plunged into crisis with the Archbishop of Boston's confession that he protected a priest he knew had sexually abused young members of his church.
During a trip to the United States in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, went out of his way to heal the wounds left by the sex scandal, saying he felt deeply ashamed by it.
Last week, Benedict apologized in a letter for child sex abuse by Irish priests and spoke of the "shame and remorse" he felt over the scandal.
Child sex scandals involving Roman Catholic clergy have also emerged in recent months in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Brazil.
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