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Illinois AG accuses hundreds of Catholic priests of child sex abuse over decades

The report acknowledges that many victims will never get legal justice for their abuse.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Illinois Attorney General's Office released a report on Tuesday detailing decades of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The 696-page document is the product of a five-year investigation into alleged sex crimes by Catholic clergy, which began in 2018 under former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan – adopted daughter of indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – and continued under current Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

It names over 450 priests and lay ministers across Illinois' six Catholic dioceses who together have allegedly sexually abused almost 2,000 children since the 1940s.

The AG's office claims this is more than four times the number of clergy the Illinois dioceses reported of their own volition.

"Before this investigation, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois publicly listed only 103 substantiated child sex abusers. By comparison, this report reveals names and detailed information of 451Catholic clerics and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children across all of the dioceses in Illinois," the report states.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, largest of Illinois' Catholic dioceses, did not respond to a request to confirm this claim. However, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich disputed in his own statement the report's allegation that "decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight."

"All [451 named clergy] were reported to civil authorities, none were undisclosed, none were 'hiding in plain sight' since at least 2002," the archbishop said. He also claimed that all six dioceses have reported all sexual abuse allegations against clergy, regardless of credibility, to civil authorities since 2002.

The AG report rebuts that investigators only arrived at the 451 figure by continually pressuring Catholic leaders to disclose offending clergy. It states that prior to 2018, only the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet maintained lists of disclosed child sex abusers on their websites, and that it took a month of investigation before the other four dioceses followed suit.

On its website, the Archdiocese of Chicago currently lists about 160 priests and lay clergy with substantiated sexual abuse allegations, including extern clergy originating from out-of-state dioceses.

The report further claims that 149 of the abusers it lists have not yet been publicly disclosed by the dioceses, despite the allegations against them being substantiated by internal Catholic sources.

Cupich disputed this claim as well, arguing that the 149 men in question are members of religious orders, not the dioceses proper.

"[The] 149 still 'undisclosed' men are mostly religious order members who are not on our site; they are not undisclosed, and they are under the supervision and report to their respective order. AG [Kwame Raoul] himself distinguished between dioceses and religious orders, saying 'this was an investigation of the dioceses, not the orders,' recognizing they are different. However their totals include both," the archbishop wrote.

In total, the AG report accused as many as 5% of all Catholic clergy operating in Illinois between 1950 and 2020 of abuse. This figure peaked in 1988, when the report claims 4.8% of clergy were abusive, and subsequently fell to about 1.4% in 2020.

Given this decline in reported abusers, Cupich argued that state authorities should not single out the Catholic Church.

"AG said: church is more worthy of investigation because it is a trusted religious organization. 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," Cupich wrote.

But Raoul, in a statement accompanying the release of the report, said the Illinois dioceses must take further steps to prevent child sexual abuse and transparently report when it occurs. Despite its damning conclusions, the report is not any form of indictment against any Catholic leader or organization, and it does not compel any changes to the Illinois dioceses' methods for handling clerical abusers or reports of abuse.

Raoul himself acknowledged that "many survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clerics will never see justice in a legal sense."

Instead the report merely suggests that the dioceses make further internal reforms, such as implementing a statewide telephone hotline for reporting abuse, and arriving at a uniform definition of "child sex abuse," as opposed to the diocese-specific definitions in place now.

All six dioceses in Illinois put out a joint statement last Thursday summarizing their "processes for handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors against clerics." That statement makes no mention of the attorney general's report, and Raoul's office did not return a request to clarify whether it alerted Catholic authorities of the report's release date in advance.

Illinois is among the most Catholic states in the union, owing to decades of immigration from Mexico, Ireland, Poland and other heavily Catholic regions. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that 28% of all Illinoisans identify as Catholic.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, Regional, Religion

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