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Catholic Church in Illinois knew about sex abuse allegations against 500 priests but didn't tell anyone

“The dioceses also often found reasons to discredit survivors’ stories of abuse by focusing on the survivors’ personal lives,” the report notes.

by Carter Sherman
Dec 20 2018, 6:07pm

Catholic dioceses in Illinois knew about accusations of sexual abuse against more than 500 members of the clergy and did not share those accusations with the public, the Illinois attorney general announced Wednesday.

In total, about 690 members of the Illinois clergy have been accused of sexual abuse, according to a preliminary report released by Attorney General Lisa Madigan. But the six Illinois dioceses have so far only publicly identified 185 clergy members as having been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse.

The Illinois dioceses decided that just 26 percent of those allegations were “credible” or “substantiated,” according to the report. They did not investigate, or they investigated but did not substantiate, 74 percent of the sexual abuse allegations. The dioceses frequently did not investigate if a clergy member had died, left the country, or resigned from ministry; dioceses also often found claims to be unsubstantiated if only one survivor had reported abuse, even if that diocese had reason to believe the survivor’s story.

“The dioceses also often found reasons to discredit survivors’ stories of abuse by focusing on the survivors’ personal lives,” Madigan’s report noted.

A clergy sexual abuse hotline set up by Madigan’s office to assist survivors has also received more than 300 communications. “In many instances, the sexual abuse people suffered as children destroyed their lives,” the report said, adding that survivors often talked about dealing with addiction and mental health struggles, including 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 added.

The Illinois dioceses cooperated with Madigan’s investigation and turned over thousands of documents.

“I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse,” Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, who oversees the Archdiocese of Chicago, said in a statement. “It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history.”

Madigan launched her investigation into Catholic child sexual abuse after the August release of a scorching Pennsylvania grand jury report that found more than 300 “predator priests” had lurked within Pennsylvania dioceses over the last several decades.

In the wake of that report, the U.S. Catholic Church has faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny from law enforcement. At least 15 states have launched investigations, while the Justice Department has subpoenaed records from seven of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses as part of a federal probe into sexual abuse by priests. It’s believed to be the first federal investigation of its kind in the United States.

Cover image: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan outlines a federal lawsuit her office filed on Monday, April 23, 2018 file photo. (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)

Catholic Church
child sexual abuse
grand jury priests report