Illinois AG report says dioceses failed abuse victims

Cardinal Blase Cupich Credit Daniel Ibanez 1 CNA 1 Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. CNA file photo

Illinois' attorney general released a report Wednesday outlining the early findings into an investigation into clerical sexual abuse in the state's six Catholic dioceses.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan began an investigation in August, following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing seven decades of clerical sexual allegations in six dioceses of that state.

Madigan's Dec. 19 "status update" was released to provide "an overview of the investigation to date."

While the report charged the dioceses of Illinois with failing to assist victims of clerical sexual abuse, follow Church policy, and sufficiently report abuse allegations, it did not identify particular instances of misconduct, or identify the scope and scale of the problems it reported.

The report said that the attorney general's office had received hundreds of communications through a hotline it had established, many of which came from survivors of clerical sexual abuse.

"In many instances, the sexual abuse people suffered as children destroyed their lives. Survivors reported battling alcoholism, drug use, mental health crises, and suicide attempts. They spoke of failed careers, broken marriages, and strained relationships with loved ones, including their own children. Frequently, survivors shared that the abuse they suffered as children prevented them from 'living up to their full potential.'" the report said.

"Even survivors who have gone on to lead productive lives still carry this burden. Many chillingly detailed how they followed the movements of their abusers, as the clergy were transferred around Catholic parishes. They often kept track of their abusers through the clergy's retirement and death. The stories are heartbreaking."

According to Madigan's report, some survivors told the attorney general's office that they had reported abuse to diocesan offices.

"Most shared that the diocese they contacted failed to take action against the clergy they accused of sexual abuse, or failed to follow up when they requested information about the accused. As a result, survivors have struggled to heal receive justice, and find closure. In their view, the Catholic Church continues to fail at addressing decades of clergy sexual abuse," the report said.

Madigan's report did not disclose how many victims of clerical sexual abuse had contacted her office, nor did it indicate how many said they had been failed by dioceses.

While Illinois' six Catholic dioceses have publicly identified 185 clerics "credibly" accused of sexual abuse, the names of more than 500 priests or deacons accused of abuse have not been publicly disclosed, the report said.

The report did not indicate the time frame in which those allegations were made, or otherwise indicate the time frame under investigation by the attorney general's office.

The unreported names are those of clerics who faced allegations that were either not substantiated or not investigated, the report said. Among most common reasons why some allegations would not be investigated, it found was "the fact that a clergy was either deceased or had resigned from ministry when the allegation was first reported to the diocese."

Dioceses had also insufficiently investigated some allegations, the report said, adding that the attorney general's office "believes that additional allegations should be deemed 'credible' or 'substantiated' by the Illinois Dioceses."

The investigation also "found multiple examples where the Illinois Dioceses failed to notify law enforcement or DCFS of allegations they received related to clergy sexual abuse of minors."

While its findings were only preliminary, the report said that the attorney general's office "has reviewed enough information to conclude that the Illinois Dioceses will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own. It appears that the Illinois Dioceses have lost sight of both the 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."

"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. The actions taken by the Catholic Church should always be survivor-focused and with the goal of holding abusers accountable in a transparent manner," it concluded.
In response to the report, the Archdiocese of Chicago said that it was unsure whether, or how, the report might apply to its conduct.

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"The nature of the report makes it difficult to discern which generalized findings apply to the Archdiocese of Chicago," a Dec. 19 statement from the archdiocese read.

"The Archdiocese of Chicago has been at the forefront of dealing with the issue of clergy sexual abuse for nearly three decades," the statement added.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese told CNA that its policies require it to investigate and report every allegation of clerical sexual abuse it receives, regardless of whether the accused cleric was living at the allegation was made.

"The idea that clergy sexual abuse of minors is more extensive than [we] reported is just false," archdiocesan attorney William Kunkel told the Washington Post.

"It's not fair to put out a list of people accused, any more than it would be fair to put out a list of accused reporters," he added.

The Diocese of Joliet said Dec. 19 that it had "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 has also not informed the Diocese of Joliet of any inaccuracies or omissions in our files that would prompt additions or corrections to the list of priests with credible allegations that is on our website."

"The Diocese of Joliet expresses its genuine regret and profound sympathy to any victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy in the Diocese of Joliet and elsewhere. We are committed to promoting the healing and reconciliation of survivors."

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The Diocese of Springfield also expressed regret.

"Revisiting the pain caused to victims of abuse has motivated us to redouble our commitments to the reforms undertaken many years ago and to sustain our vigilance," Bishop Thomas Paprocki said in a Dec. 19 statement.

"Reviewing these past cases has also reminded us that many years ago people didn't publicly discuss the kind of salacious allegations documented in these files," Bishop Paprocki added.

"A virtuous intent to protect the faithful from scandal unfortunately prevented the transparency and awareness that has helped us confront this problem more directly over the past fifteen years. We are continuing to learn and strive to improve our assistance for those who are victims and survivors of child sexual abuse."

Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich added similar sentiments.

"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.

"It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history. Their bravery spurred my predecessor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to establish an archdiocesan Special Commission in 1991 to examine this terrible crisis, and to develop a robust set of procedures to protect young people from predators and to establish supportive services for victim-survivors and their families."

Those efforts continue today in the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, which is staffed by lay professionals with backgrounds in investigative services, education, social work, and therapeutic services. They work daily to protect and heal. 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 concluded.

The report did not indicate whether Madigan, the state's chief prosecutor, had uncovered potential crimes in the course of her investigation.

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