The Times survey counted priests from dioceses and religious orders who had been accused by name of sexually abusing one or more children. It determined that 1.8 percent of all priests ordained from 1950 to 2001 had been accused of abuse.
But the research also suggested that the extent of the problem remains hidden. In dioceses that have divulged what they say are complete lists of abusive priests — under court orders or voluntarily — the percentages are far higher. In Baltimore, an estimated 6.2 percent of priests ordained in the last half-century have been implicated in the abuse of minors. In Manchester, N.H., the percentage is 7.7, and in Boston it is 5.3.
In November, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a top Vatican official, declared that "less than 1 percent" of priests had abused minors, and that there were fewer sex offenders among priests than other groups.
But experts say it is impossible to know whether priests abuse more or less often than people in other professions, or even in the general population, because there are no reliable studies.
The Times data include only cases in which priests were named, and many bishops have released only partial lists of accused priests, or refused to identify any.
....• Half of the priests in the database were accused of molesting more than one minor, and 16 percent are accused of having had five or more victims..
• Eighty percent of the priests were accused of molesting boys. The percentage is nearly the opposite for laypeople accused of abuse; their victims are mostly girls..
• While the majority of the priests were accused of molesting teenagers only, 43 percent were accused of molesting children 12 and younger. Experts in sexual disorders say the likeliest repeat offenders are those who abuse prepubescent children and boys..
• Those ordained in 1970 and 1975 included the highest percentage of priests accused of abuse: 3.3 percent. More known offenders were ordained in the 1970's than in any other decade..
• Of the 432 priests removed from or who left the ministry last year, 183 were suspended, living in limbo while waiting for church panels to decide their cases. Bishops were known to have begun the most drastic step, defrocking, for only 11 priests, despite agreeing to a policy at their Dallas meeting last year that encouraged this option. At least nine priests have been reinstated..
• The Boston Archdiocese, which received the most scrutiny in news reports last year, did have the most accused priests — 94 — but not the worst problem proportionally. More than a dozen other dioceses had a higher rate of accused priests when taken as a percentage of their active priests..