Illinois probe reveals rampant sexual abuse in Catholic Church

The report names 451 clerics and religious brothers with substantiated claims of sexual abuse against them in the US.

Cardinal Blase Cupich waits for the arrival of Pope Francis to lead the general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican, February 7, 2018.
US Cardinal Blase Cupich issued a response to Tuesday's report, arguing that the Catholic Church in Illinois has 'asked repeatedly' for the state attorney general's office to share its findings [File: Max Rossi/Reuters]

The attorney general of Illinois in the midwestern United States has released a 696-page report revealing widespread sexual abuse on the part of Roman Catholic clergy in the state — abuse it says went under-reported and, in some cases, tolerated.

The report tallied 1,997 child survivors across seven decades, from the 1950s through 2019. Among the findings were that 451 clerics and religious brothers had substantiated claims of sexual abuse against them.

That is approximately 149 more child sex abusers than previously disclosed by the six Catholic dioceses that operate across Illinois, according to the report, which reveals the alleged abusers’ names and the dates on which they are accused of harming children.

“These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accounting and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a press release.

Kwame Raoul, wearing a blue suit, gestures with both hands behind a podium. He is standing in front of a backdrop that reads "2023."
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he hoped the report would offer a ‘measure of healing’ to survivors [File: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo]

Raoul picked up the investigation after his predecessor Lisa Madigan decided not to seek reelection in 2018. Madigan had launched a probe that year after accusing the Catholic Church of undercounting the number of child sex abusers among its staff.

In the wake of a blockbuster 2018 grand jury investigation into the Catholic Church in the state of Pennsylvania, the Illinois dioceses initially disclosed 103 alleged abusers on its website.

Tuesday’s report said that number went up by 81 within months of the Illinois attorney general’s office launching its investigation.

Approximately 100,000 pages of diocesan documents were analysed as part of the probe, and the attorney general’s office fielded more than 600 victim complaints.

“The survivor narratives demonstrate a troubling pattern of the church failing to support survivors, ignoring or covering up reports of abuse, and survivors being re-victimized by the church when they came forward to report being abused,” the office said in a statement.

In one instance, a survivor recalled how a priest allegedly offered him cookies before starting to fondle him in the rectory kitchen. That kind of abuse happened multiple times afterwards, the survivor said in the report.

As an adult, the survivor said he testified to church leadership about what happened, naming the priest, but he would later discover that his claims were not investigated. The priest had died, the report explained, and the church sought to protect the man’s “good name and reputation”.

Tuesday’s report is the latest black eye for the Catholic Church in the US, which has faced a series of scandals related to alleged sexual abuse and cover-ups, resulting in billions of dollars worth of legal settlements.

Just last month, the state of Maryland’s attorney general, Anthony Brown, issued a similar report, identifying 158 priests accused of sexual abuse and more than 600 alleged survivors.

In the wake of the report, Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, sought to quell concerns that the Catholic Church had been negligent in documenting and investigating cases of child sexual abuse.

He released a video statement on Tuesday saying that, since 2006, his organisation has maintained and updated a public list of clerics identified as abusers through independent investigations and reviews.

Cupich added that his church had “asked repeatedly” for Illinois’s attorney general to share any new cases it discovered or disclosed, but that he was surprised on Tuesday to find new names in the attorney general’s report.

“There are no hidden or undisclosed cases. The vast majority of cases occurred decades ago, and many of the perpetrators are deceased,” Cupich said of the report. “No cleric, with even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him, is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies