A scathing report from Attorney General Lisa Madigan finds the number of Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse in Illinois is much higher than previously acknowledged, with 690 clergy accused, although Catholic officials have publicly identified only 185 clergy with credible allegations against them.
The determination was part of a preliminary report made public Wednesday by Madigan’s office, which has been investigating Catholic clergy sexual abuse of minors following revelations over the summer of widespread abuse and cover-ups by Catholic officials in Pennsylvania. The report was critical of the six Catholic dioceses that govern parishes across Illinois for their lack of transparency and flawed investigations.
Although the report says that “Clergy sexual abuse of minors in Illinois is significantly more extensive than the Illinois Dioceses previously reported,” it does not estimate how many of the allegations against the 690 clergy should have been deemed credible. It also doesn’t make clear how old the allegations of abuse were.
“It appears that the Illinois Dioceses have lost sight of both key tenet of the Charter and the most obvious human need as a result of these abhorrent acts of abuse: the healing and reconciliation of survivors,” the report stated. “Long after legal remedies have expired, the Catholic Church has the ability and moral responsibility to survivors to offer support and services, and to take swift action to remove abusive clergy.”
In a prepared statement, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich acknowledged that victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests continue to live with the pain. He said the archdiocese has been looking into the issue of sexual abuse since at least 1991, when then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin formed a special commission.
“I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse,” Cupich said in the statement. “It is the courage of the victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history.”
The report found that in many cases, the dioceses did not conduct proper investigations into allegations, particularly when the priest had died, left the ministry or was a member of a religious order, rather than a priest under the authority of a diocese. In some cases, the dioceses referred an allegation of abuse to a priest’s religious order rather than investigating the abuse themselves.
And in other cases, an allegation was not investigated at all if a lawsuit had been filed, if the person making the allegation wanted to remain anonymous, if a police agency was investigating the incident or if a priest had left the United States, according to the report.
Madigan’s office found instances in which the dioceses used personal information against the person making the allegation to discredit them, which then led to the accusation not being found credible. The report didn’t specify when the dioceses used the tactics.