In a damning new report, Illinois’ Attorney General has accused the state’s Catholic establishment of concealing the names of at least 500 priests and clergy members accused of sexual abuse.
Several Catholic dioceses in Illinois have already released lists identifying a total of 185 clergy members who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, but attorney general Lisa Madigan says her own preliminary investigation suggests that the dioceses have failed to disclose the names of some 500 additional priests at the center of similar allegations.
In numerous cases, attorney general Madigan reports, sexual abuse allegations have “not been adequately investigated by the dioceses or not investigated at all.” More damning still, Madigan accuses the Catholic establishment of failing to notify secular law enforcement authorities and Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services in many of the cases.
“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois.” Madigan also suggests that the failure to disclose these abuse cases has the added effect of allowing Catholic dioceses in Illinois to ignore whether or not Church superiors concealed abuse.
Attorney general Madigan began her investigation into Catholic sex abuse in August, soon after a Pennsylvania grand jury report blew the whistle on at least 1,000 sex abuse cases, publicly naming over 300 priests and religious order members who had sexually abused children during their tenure in one of Pennsylvania’s seven Catholic dioceses.
With public pressure mounting, Catholic dioceses across the country began to publish their own lists of accused clergy members. According to CNN, at least 36 dioceses (out of 197 total) have published lists of their own, but sexual abuse advocates have criticized their efforts as a craven play to evade true justice, decrying the published lists as incomplete.
Some dioceses have chosen to restrict their lists to the names of deceased priests. Further, few of the lists actually provide concrete details on the sex abuse cases. Little is said about whether or not the cases were investigated, and what the results of those investigations could be.
Attorney general Madigan seems to side with the criticisms of sexual abuse survivors and advocates, writing, “the preliminary stages of this investigation have already demonstrated that the Catholic Church cannot police itself. Allegations of sexual abuse of minors, even if they stem from conduct that occurred many years ago, cannot be treated as internal personnel matters.”
Based on her office’s review of internal diocese documents, Madigan estimates that Catholic leaders in Illinois have received abuse allegations related to approximately 690 clergy members. But their lists only name 185 of these priests.
Nearly 75% of the allegations, the attorney general’s office reports, were not investigated, or were investigated but never substantiated. In many cases, the report continues, the dioceses said they failed to investigate because the priest had already died, or had left the ministry prior to the report. In other cases, a dioceses failed to substantiate allegations that came from a single survivor, even when Catholic officials had reason to believe the survivor.
“The dioceses also often found reasons to discredit survivors’ stories of abuse by focusing on the survivors’ personal lives,” the report states. This is a common trend around the country, as the Catholic establishment attempts to discredit sexual abuse survivors by digging into their personal lives for incriminating details.
While a 2002 Catholic Church charter seeks to equip dioceses with the means to combat child sexual abuse, Attorney General Madigan’s investigation has found that any efforts to root out abusers have been inconsistent at best.
“The Office’s ongoing investigation,” the Attorney General writes, “has revealed that dioceses have employed investigation practices that do not align with their own written policies. Across Illinois, inconsistent policies, procedures, and practices have led to the inconsistent handling of child sex abuse investigations by the dioceses, yielding, at best, inconsistent results and, at worst, inadequate investigations that fail to satisfy the Catholic Church’s Charter, which seeks to hold clergy accountable and provide relief and healing to survivors.”
The investigation spans all six of Illinois’ Catholic dioceses:
After announcing its investigation, undertaken in collaboration with experienced Illinois sexual abuse attorneys, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office launched a confidential hotline for sexual abuse survivors and their families, providing a way for these survivors to share their stories without having to contact the Church. Attorney general Madigan says the hotline has already fielded at least 300 calls.
“Many survivors who contacted the Office were choosing to share their experiences […] for the first time,” according to the report. While many of the reports involved misconduct committed years ago, the scars of sexual abuse still cut deep. Many of the survivors reported long-standing battles with alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide attempts.
“They spoke of failed careers, broken marriages, and strained relationships with loved ones, including their own children,” the report continues. Tragically, many of the survivors “detailed how they followed the movements of their abusers, as the clergy were transferred around Catholic parishes.”