More than 450 Catholic clerics and religious brothers abused nearly 2,000 children across six Illinois dioceses, according to a multi-year investigation from the state’s Attorney General’s Office, a total significantly higher than what the church itself had reported previously.
The results of the investigation, published by Attorney General Kwame Raoul Tuesday, represents what he called the first comprehensive accounting of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy in Illinois.
Before the investigation, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois had publicly listed 103 substantiated child sex abusers, according to Raoul. His investigation found there’d been 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children across Illinois.
“It is my hope that this nearly 700-page report will provide some closure to survivors of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics by shining a light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust, and on the individuals in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said. “These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them in this report, the intention is to provide public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”
The investigation was launched in 2018 under then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Raoul noted Tuesday that he had committed to continue those efforts before he was even sworn into office early the following year.
The report detailed a “troubling pattern” in which church officials repeatedly ignored or covered up reports of abuse, while survivors were revictimized when they came forward to report being abused. The investigation also found instances where church officials could have reported abuse, but chose not to do so.
“Repeatedly, church officials prioritized the reputation of the institution over protecting children,” Raoul’s office said, “frequently giving abusive priests the benefit of the doubt — giving abusers the chance to abuse again — and even covering up the abuse by misleading the public.”
In one case, after allegations arose in 1970 that a Chicago priest had abused multiple teenage girls, a church official recommended that he be moved from his parish in Morgan Park to another church in Round Lake, despite the fact the priest had admitted to the abuse. The report states that priest then allegedly went on to abuse or act inappropriately toward at least three more children and remained in ministry for another 30 years until January 2003.
According to the report, the number of priests and brothers statewide who were substantiated child sex abusers reached a peak of 4.8% in 1988. That figure has since dropped to 1.5% as of 2019, the report states.
The Diocese of Belleville remained above 8% for two decades from 1991 until 2011, when it topped 10%, according to the report. The Archdiocese of Chicago typically stayed around 4% from 1950 until 2002, and that figure has since fallen under 2%.
The report also includes a list of recommendations for the dioceses, including that they disclose the number of prior child sex abuse allegations against a cleric when asked.
“Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight,” Raoul said, noting that because in many cases statutes of limitations have expired, “many survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clerics will never see justice in a legal sense.
“But it is my sincere hope that this report will shine light on those who violated their positions of power and trust, who abused innocent children and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse.”
Asked if he believed the dioceses lied to the public, Raoul noted the discrepancy between the previously-reported number of abusers and the totals included in this report.
“I think the numbers sort of speak for themselves on that,” he said.
Raoul said the investigation began with two goals in mind: To provide a full accounting of substantiated child sex abuse committed by church officials, and to give survivors a voice as a measure of healing. What the report found, in part, was that “horrifying, criminal, and unconscionable acts were inflicted upon survivors.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests support group said in a statement the numbers identified in Raoul’s report are “staggering.”
“There is no questioning the facts of the report — until 2018 when the investigation began, hierarchs in every Illinois diocese kept known abusers under wraps, declined to include them on their accused lists, and refused to acknowledge the truth that survivors of abuse who came forward to make a report shared with them,” the group said in a statement. “It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly.”
Larry Antonsen, who heads SNAP’s Chicago chapter, said he was thrilled by the release of the report and believes attorneys general in states across the U.S. should undertake similar investigations.
“I think the silence helps enable the abusers,” he told WTTW News. “I think there’s a whole lot more. I mean really a lot more, and hopefully something like this … hopefully it will give other survivors the courage to stand up and tell their story.”
Antonsen, who is an abuse survivor himself, believes there are likely far more abusers and victims than what was listed in Raoul’s report.
He said that for real change to occur, priests — and those who’ve covered up their abuse — need to be held accountable, either through criminal charges or being kicked out of the church.
“I think they still lie about it,” Antonsen said. “They just want people to think this has gone away or it’s slowing down and it hasn’t. It hasn’t slowed down and it’s never gonna go away unless they do something to change the church.”
Each of the six dioceses — based in Chicago, Peoria, Joliet, Belleville, Rockford and Springfield — issued a statement last week ahead of the report’s release, in which they outlined police changes they’ve undertaken to update their policies surrounding sexual abuse reporting and handling.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, apologized Tuesday “to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics.”
“I am personally committed to applying the highest level of vigilance to these efforts and to further strengthening our safeguards against abuse,” Cupich said in a statement. “I invite other institutions that care for children and civil authorities to join us in this work and consider adopting the procedures we have developed over the past three decades, so that all children are kept safe.”
But Cupich also maintained his archdiocese has reported all child sexual abuse allegations to civil authorities, while noting that many of these cases occurred decades ago.
“There are no hidden or undisclosed cases,” he said.
To report a current case of sexual abuse contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services at 1-800-252-2873. To report a past incidence of abuse contact SNAP at 1-877-762-7432.
The full report is available below.