National News

Illinois Bishops Welcome, But Also Wary of, Attorney General’s Abuse Report

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks as he releases a May 23, 2023 report revealing decades of abuse by Catholic clergy against almost 2,000 children. (OSV News screenshot/Twitter)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — A new report from the Illinois Attorney General on clergy sex abuse across the state’s six Catholic dioceses identified 451 clerics and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children from 1950-2019.

At least 160 of those abusers had not been previously disclosed on diocesan websites.

The report, published on May 23, was five years in the making. The response from the state’s Catholic leaders contained apologies and reaffirmation of their commitment to adequately respond to any allegations of clergy sex abuse, but concerns were also expressed about the report presenting data in a way “that could be misleading.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago apologized to victims but also questioned why the report was restricted to Catholic personnel rather than examining all claims of sexual abuse.

“We think all children deserve to be protected regardless of whether they are cared for by a religious or secular institution; it isn’t fair or wise to focus only on the Catholic Church, which has made the greatest strides in this area,” Cardinal Cupich said.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the report’s goal was public accountability.

“More work remains, but this investigation resulted in significant steps forward in the dioceses’ policies relating to investigations, disclosure, and transparency, and survivor care and communications,” Raoul said in a message accompanying the report.

“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children and on the men in Church leadership who covered up that abuse,” he continued. 

“These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors.”

Illinois has roughly 3.5 million Catholics, which make up about 27% of the state’s population. The state’s six dioceses are the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Joliet, Springfield, Rockford, Peoria, and Belleville.

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office began the investigation into the state’s six Catholic dioceses in the latter half of 2018, directly following a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found widespread abuse in that state. The Pennsylvania report has led to investigations in a number of other states, as well.

Investigators put the report together through a review of more than 100,000 pages of documents held by the dioceses and interviews with diocesan leadership and representatives. The Attorney General’s Office also received over 600 confidential contacts from abuse survivors.

Throughout the process, the dioceses made changes to be more transparent. The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet expanded their respective published lists of substantiated Catholic clergy child sex abusers. Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, the Dioceses of Springfield, Rockford, Peoria, and Belleville all created a published list for the first time and expanded it over the years.

When the investigation concluded, the six dioceses had publicly listed 334 names of credibly accused clergy. Investigators identified another 160, bringing the total to 494. However, a number served in multiple dioceses, so the true number of credibly accused in the state, according to the report, is 451.

The report acknowledges that the majority of these cases cannot move forward with either criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit as the statute of limitations has passed.

Data analysis in the report shows that clergy sex abuse in the state steadily rose from 1950, peaking in the mid-1980s. From there, the numbers began to decline, steeply doing so in the early 2000s after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The Archdiocese of Chicago — the largest of the six dioceses and one of the largest in the world — has listed by far the most credibly accused clergy at 275. In a statement after the report’s publication, Cardinal Cupich said he hadn’t read the report in full but wanted to clarify some of the facts surrounding it.

First, Cardinal Cupich said the names of all 451 priests are on the six diocesan websites and that all of them were reported to civil authorities and “none were undisclosed.” He added that regardless of the statute of limitations, the archdiocese offers pastoral care and compensation to all who come forward with a claim.

In response to the suggestion that outsiders be involved in internal investigations, Cardinal Cupich noted that the archdiocese has had an independent review board with laypeople in prominent roles since 1992.

The cardinal also apologized to the survivors of sexual abuse.

“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,” Cardinal Cupich said.

Leaders of the other Illinois dioceses also incorporated apologies in their responses to the attorney general’s report while also reaffirming their commitment to appropriately responding to any allegations. They also, Cardinal Cupich included, emphasized that there are no clerics in the dioceses in ministry with a substantiated allegation of clergy sex abuse against him.

Ahead of the report’s publication, the six dioceses published uniform guidelines for how they would respond to allegations of clergy sex abuse. Within the guidelines, Cardinal Cupich said, “The Catholic Church in Illinois has been at the forefront of dealing with the sexual abuse of minors for many years.

“At this time, working with the Office of the Attorney General of Illinois, the leaders of all six Illinois dioceses endeavored to make clear and update our approach, mindful of our lived experience and best practices in this field,” Cardinal Cupich said. “Our common goals in doing so are to ensure we offer pastoral support to those affected by this tragedy and to work diligently to prevent it from occurring again.”

The report highlights that the dioceses’ shortcomings have caused great harm, but at present, they all have made strides in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office for more effective practices.

“As a result of the shortcomings identified by the attorney general investigators, hundreds of survivors were denied justice because the church was not investigating — and therefore not able to substantiate — certain child sex abuse claims,” the report states.

“To their credit, the Illinois dioceses worked closely with the attorney general’s investigators in an effort to understand the attorney general’s concerns — and, most importantly, their effect on survivors, both those who have come forward and those who, for whatever reason, have not.”