Franciscans admit 'horrific' sex abuse in seminary

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THE SCANDAL over child sex abuse in the United States has taken a new twist after an investigation concluded that 34 boys in California were sexually abused by friars during nude games at a seminary.

An independent panel set up by the Franciscan Order found that the abuses took place between 1964 and 1987 at St Anthony's Seminary, which ran a boarding school for aspiring priests at Santa Barbara, 80 miles north of Los Angeles. It is now closed.

The names of the 12 friars at the seminary identified as offenders have been kept secret.

'The abuse perpetrated by our own brothers on the victims and their families is truly horrific,' said Joseph Chinnici, leader of the Franciscans in seven western states. The panel was set up in January after one of the friars was jailed for a year for having oral sex with a boy. Other boys then came forward with allegations which prompted the Franciscans to begin their investigation. This found that 12 friars were involved in nude games, nude photograph sessions, fondling and oral sex with boys mostly aged between 14 and 16, although some are believed to have been as young as seven.

Last night it was unclear what will happen to the accused. One has died and eight are said to be receiving therapy.

The revelations will add to rising concern about child abuse in the US, highlighted by allegations against Michael Jackson, Woody Allen and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Prosecutors say accusations of child abuse have risen sharply as the issue has been brought into the open. Federal statistics estimate that there were 580,000 child abuse cases last year.

The allegations will increase pressure on the Roman Catholic Church, which has been faced recently with dozens of accusations about the sexual conduct of its supposedly celibate priesthood. The latest came when Steven Cook, 34, from Philadelphia, accused Cardinal Bernardin of abusing him while a teenage pre-seminary student. The cardinal denies the claim.