Nearly 2,000 children abused by Catholic clergy over decades, says Illinois AG report

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Illinois AG abuse report
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, issued a statement in response to the Illinois Attorney General Report May 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

(UPDATED) (OSV News) — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a May 23 report revealing decades of abuse by Catholic clergy against almost 2,000 children.

The report, unveiled during a May 23 press conference and totaling almost 700 pages, concludes a multi-year investigation launched in 2018 into child sexual abuse by 451 clergy and religious brothers in all six Catholic dioceses in Illinois.

Prior to Raoul’s investigation, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois publicly listed just 103 credibly accused abusers.

According to Raoul’s office, attorneys and investigators “reviewed more than 100,000 pages of documents held by the dioceses and received more than 600 confidential contacts from survivors through emails, letters, interviews and phone calls.”

“I was raised and confirmed in the Catholic Church and sent my children to Catholic schools. I believe the church does important work to support vulnerable populations,” said Raoul in a May 23 statement. “However, as with any presumably reputable institution, the Catholic Church must be held accountable when it betrays the public’s trust.”

He added that although “these perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law,” their naming in the report would “provide a public accounting and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”

Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said in a statement that archdiocesan officials “have not studied the report in detail but have concerns about data that might be misunderstood or are presented in ways that could be misleading.”

Among what he said church officials “know to be true” is that the 451 clergy named in the report includes the priests already on the six diocesan websites. “ALL were reported to civil authorities, none were undisclosed, none were ‘hiding in plain sight’ since at least 2002.”

Similarly, Rockford Bishop David J. Malloy — who “first and foremost (apologized) for the pain endured by victim survivors of childhood sexual abuse” — said Raoul’s report contained “inaccuracies.”

Allegations that “known abusers (are) actively ministering” in the Diocese of Rockford are “to the best of our knowledge … simply not true,” said Bishop Malloy.

He added that the Diocese of Rockford has “worked cooperatively” with the attorney general’s office since the inquiry was opened in August 2018, and “at no time” during the four-and-a-half year investigation was the diocese “ever informed that the Attorney General holds this view.”

“The Attorney General’s report identifies 160 priests it maintains should be on public lists but are not. However, the Attorney General reports that none of those 160 priests is or was in any way affiliated with the Diocese of Rockford,” Bishop Malloy said.

He added that safe environment protocols in the Rockford Diocese had been established in 1987, some 15 years before the U.S. bishops created their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” also known as the Dallas Charter for the city where the bishops’ meeting took place when it was adopted.

The Diocese of Peoria said in a statement that such protocols “have gone a long way to address the scourge of sexual abuse,” and that “to the diocese’s knowledge, there is not a single priest of the diocese with a substantiated allegation who is currently in ministry or who has not been reported to the authorities.”

Yet Bishop Ronald A. Hicks of Joliet stressed that “although the majority of abuse occurred decades ago, many victims/survivors remain haunted to this day.”

“Some may be thinking, ‘I thought this was over.’ No sin of such great magnitude as sexual abuse of minors should ever be forgotten,” he said in a May 23 statement. “Remembering the harm done forces us to remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure it never happens again.”

Springfield Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki credited Raoul’s office “for bringing about greater transparency” and for “keeping the spotlight on this issue to help us sustain the vigilance” needed to guard against future threats of abuse.

The report “(serves) as a reminder that some clergy in the Church committed shameful and disgraceful sins against innocent victim survivors, and did damage that simply cannot be undone,” said Bishop Paprocki. “We hope the Attorney General’s office continues this vigilance for creating a safer environment with other institutions, and it doesn’t stop with just the Catholic Church.”

While noting he would “need some time to read and fully absorb” the report, Bishop Michael G. McGovern of Belleville said it was “crucial” to understand that “nothing is more important to us than the welfare of the youth entrusted to our care,” and that the Belleville Diocese “takes all allegations of inappropriate or sexual misconduct seriously.”

“In the name of our community, I offer my profound apology to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics,” said Bishop McGovern.

“We must think first of the survivors of sexual abuse who carry the burden of these crimes through their lives,” Cardinal Cupich said in his statement. “On behalf of the archdiocese, I apologize to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics. Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims.”

“For more than 30 years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has been at the forefront of developing and improving policies and programs to address the scourge of child sexual abuse and to support survivors,” he said, adding, “I hope the attention drawn to the issue by the report will encourage those who work with minors to learn from our experience and take steps to protect all children from sexual abuse.”

In a May 23 statement, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, called the report “stunning.”

SNAP also asserted that the report’s release explained a May 19 press statement from all six of the state’s Catholic dioceses describing the safe environment policies and procedures each has in place.

“With today’s news, we now know why those church leaders felt the need to remind parents and parishioners about these policies,” said SNAP, alleging “those policies are weak, vague, and rarely followed.”

Attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented numerous clerical abuse survivors, said in a May 23 statement that the report was “the most survivor-centric, robust, and thorough (attorney general) report — a foundational expos√© unearthing crimes of those who chose to abuse their positions of power.”

Gina Christian

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News.