An Illinois attorney general’s office investigation released on Tuesday found that 451 Catholic clergy sexually abused nearly 2,000 children in the state over a nearly 70-year period, which was more than four times the 103 individuals the church named when the state began its review in 2018.
The attorney general Kwame Raoul said at a news conference that investigators found that Catholic clergy abused 1,997 children in Illinois between 1950 and 2019.
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“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said, crediting the accusers for making the review possible.
“These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”
The lengthy report describes Illinois church leaders as woefully slow to acknowledge the extent of the abuse. It also accuses them of frequently dragging their feet to confront accused clergy and of failing to warn parishioners about possible abusers in their midst, sometimes even decades after allegations emerged about a clergy member – all of which echoes known facts about other dioceses in the US.
The review began in 2018 under Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, who released a blistering report as she prepared to leave office. Raoul committed to continuing the investigation and reported on Tuesday that 25 staff members reviewed more than 100,000 pages of diocesan documents and engaged in more than 600 confidential interactions with contacts.
Among those cited in the report are accusers who contemplated suicide after being abused, and who turned to drugs or alcohol in a bid to cope with “anxiety and feelings of unworthiness”.
“Survivors spoke of years, and often decades, struggling with challenges including insomnia, anxiety, trust issues, nightmares, suicidal ideation, guilt, addiction, alcoholism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, issues creating and maintaining relationships, and sexual side effects,” according to the report.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) called the report “stunning” but emphasized that the numbers of victims and abusers cited by state investigators are likely undercounted.
“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.
“It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly.”
In a joint statement issued on Friday ahead of Raoul’s announcement, the state’s Catholic dioceses released summaries of their current process following an accusation of abuse and said the attorney general’s review prompted a review of their policies and unspecified changes.
“At this time, working with the office of the attorney general of Illinois, the leaders of all six Illinois dioceses endeavored to make clear and update our approach, mindful of our lived experience and best practices in this field,” the archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, said in the statement.
“Our common goals in doing so are to ensure we offer pastoral support to those affected by this tragedy and to work diligently to prevent it from occurring again.”
The preliminary report conducted under Madigan found that the dioceses had done a woefully inadequate job of investigating allegations. Raoul, too, accused Catholic leaders of making decisions and policies that “allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight”.
He added that the statute of limitations has expired in many cases and that those abusers “will never see justice in a legal sense”.
Similar government-led investigations detailing reports of clergy sexual abuse and church leaders’ failure to hold perpetrators accountable have rocked archdioceses in other states, including Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Governments in other states – including Louisiana – have refused to launch similar investigations.
That remains the case even as Louisiana’s largest archdiocese – in New Orleans – has had to expand its roster of clerics whom it considers to be credibly suspected of child molestation repeatedly after its initial release in 2018 amid reports from media and victims highlighting offenders who should have been included but were omitted.
The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in 2020, putting an indefinite halt to abuse-related litigation against the New Orleans church and minimizing the chances of embarrassing disclosures about its handling of clerical predators.
In its statement on Tuesday, Snap also called on other attorneys general and prosecutors to initiate similar investigations of Catholic dioceses under their authority.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois says 3.5 million Catholics make up approximately 27% of Illinois’ total population.
In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International