WASHINGTON – Allegations of sexual abuse involving the Roman Catholic clergy in the United States rose sharply last year to nearly 700 from around 400 in 2009, according to a church report Monday.
The vast majority of the allegations, 653, involved alleged abuse that occurred decades ago but whose "victims/survivors are just now finding the courage to report" them, the study said.
Thirty accusations were made by current minors, but only eight were deemed credible, said the US church's annual report on implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The number of victims was up sharply from 2009, when there were some 400 new allegations of clergy sex abuse in the United States.
Payouts were also up, rising from $104 million in 2009 to around $124 million last year.
Most of the allegations, 574, were against priests -- nearly half of whom are already deceased. Some 275 of the accused priests had already faced earlier accusations, the report said.
Five allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made against international priests from Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico -- accused of molesting two children -- and the Philippines.
More than half the victims were between the ages of 10 and 14 when the alleged abuse began; one fifth were aged between 15 and 17 years, while another fifth were younger than 10.
Most victims were boys -- 83 percent -- and two-thirds of the alleged incidents occurred or began between 1960 and 1984, the report said.
That time period coincides with the "heyday of the sexual revolution," Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said in a statement which ran as a full-page ad in the New York Times.
Donohue also denied what he called "a common belief fostered by the media that there is a widespread sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church today."
"The evidence is to the contrary... from 2005 to 2009, the average number of new credible accusations made against over 40,000 priests was 8.6," he said.
Donohue also referenced research from a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Charol Shakeshaft, saying sexual abuse of children was 100 times more likely in schools than by priests, and adding that there "has been a slew of stories" detailing abuse allegations in the Orthodox Jewish community.
Most victims were not children but teens, he added, citing an article in the Boston Globe that said that because "more than three-quarters of the victims were post-pubescent... the abuse did not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia."
The annual report is based on an audit of Roman Catholic dioceses and eparchies conducted every year since the archbishop of Boston admitted in 2002 to protecting a priest he knew had sexually abused young members of his church.
Days after last year's report, a story in the New York Times accused Pope Benedict XVI of being aware, when he headed the church's morals watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of at least one huge sex scandal involving a US priest, but doing nothing about it.
The alleged cover-up centered on the archdiocese of Milwaukee, where a now-deceased priest is accused of molesting hundreds of boys at a school for the deaf from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January.
Last year, another US priest was arrested and charged with trying to hire someone to murder a Texas teenager who accused him of sexual abuse, and a widespread clergy sex scandal also came to light in Europe last year, further damaging the Roman Catholic church's reputation.