Accusations of child sex abuse against at least 500 Roman Catholic priests and clergy members in Illinois have never been made public, a preliminary investigation by the state’s attorney general has found.
That brings the total number of members in the Illinois dioceses who have been accused of sexually abusing minors to about 690, according to the report released Wednesday. The church had previously made public the names of only 185 accused priests, 45 of whom were added after Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office started investigating in August.
Madigan started her investigation into the Catholic Church after a sweeping grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania uncovered more than 300 “predator priests” statewide who committed “criminal and/or morally reprehensible conduct.”
The report out of Pennsylvania was scathing:
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called it a “systematic cover-up” and a “failure of law enforcement,” NPR previously reported. Additionally, the grand jury investigation named the accused priests, something the Illinois attorney general’s report did not.
Madigan wanted to see if the same thing was happening in her state. Her office said in a statement it reviewed thousands of pages of documents voluntarily turned over by each of Illinois’ six dioceses and set up a hotline where people could report allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
As Susie An reported for NPR’s Morning Edition, Madigan said “one of the things we’ve seen is that the church really took any opportunity it thought it could not to investigate.”
Madigan’s office found dozens of examples where the Illinois dioceses “failed to adequately investigate an allegation of clergy sexual abuse it received from a survivor,” according to the report.
The investigation revealed that, of the allegations the Illinois dioceses have received, they only “deemed twenty-six percent as ‘credible’ allegations, meaning seventy-four percent of the allegations were either not investigated, or were investigated but not substantiated.”
The reasons the dioceses didn’t investigate accusations varied, according to the report. Sometimes the accuser wished to remain anonymous, or the accused priest had left the country, but the most common reason was that the accused had either died or resigned.
The dioceses often discounted allegations that came from just one accuser and “sought to discredit a survivor’s allegations based upon the survivor’s personal life,” according to the investigation.
The archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, responded to Madigan’s initial findings in a statement:
“I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse. It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history…There can be no doubt about the constant need to strengthen our culture of healing, protection, and accountability. While the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago, many victim-survivors continue to live with this unimaginable pain.”
Cupich said it was “difficult to discern” which of the report’s findings apply to the Archdiocese of Chicago, but defended its efforts to mitigate sexual abuse, claiming to have been at the “forefront of dealing with the issue of clergy sexual abuse for nearly three decades.”
He also said in the statement that all reports of sexual abuse are investigated, whether the accused priest is alive or dead, and that, starting in 2002, they have reported all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities, including “historical allegations.”
The Diocese of Joliet also responded to the attorney general’s report, saying in a statement that the investigation doesn’t distinguish between dioceses and that they have received “no formal or informal indication from the Attorney General that we failed to adequately investigate any allegation of abuse and/or report it to authorities.”
The attorney general said in a statement that the investigation isn’t finished and that her office has asked the state’s dioceses for additional information.
But some sexual abuse survivors don’t think the preliminary investigation goes far enough, according to Susie An reporting for NPR.
“I don’t know what to believe out of the Catholic Church, I really don’t because everything’s been so secretive and hidden,” Larry Antonsen, a leader with the Chicago branch of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told NPR.
Decades ago, Antonsen reported a priest who had sexually abused him as a child, but he says he’s still waiting for the church to publicly list the man’s name. He said he hopes Illinois will launch its own grand jury investigation.