• Ben Szalinski
    MAY 24, 2023


    Hundreds more Catholic clergy members abused children than dioceses previously revealed, according to Attorney General report  

    Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks at a news conference in Chicago on Tuesday. [State of Illinois]

    The number of Catholic priests and clergy members who abused children throughout Illinois is far greater than the Catholic Church previously reported, according to a years-long investigation by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office released Tuesday.  

    Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a 696-page report Tuesday following a four-and-a-half years long investigation into sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy members. The report found 451 clergy members abused 1,997 children within the last 80 years. That’s 348 more confirmed abusers than the Church had previously publicly reported by the time the investigation started under former Attorney General Lisa Madigan in 2018.  

    “Significantly, the analysis reveals that each Illinois diocese under reported the number of child sex abusers in the Catholic clergy when they initially released those numbers to the public,” Raoul said.  

    Illinois’ report follows a report released by Pennsylvania in 2018 that found similar numbers of clergy members and children were involved in sexual abuse cases. Raoul said his office spoke with over 600 people and victims confidentially to substantiate and confirm cases of abuse in Illinois.   

    When the report was convened in 2018, only two Illinois dioceses, Chicago and Joliet, publicly reported 103 substantiated cases of sexual abuse between the two dioceses. When the attorney general’s office opened the investigation, 81 additional cases were publicly shared by the state’s six dioceses, including in Rockford, Peoria, Springfield, and Belleville, bringing the number of abusers substantiated by the dioceses themselves to 184. During the investigation, the dioceses also reported another 150 abusers.   

    At the conclusion of the investigation with additional confirmation by the attorney general of abusers not previously reported by the dioceses, the investigation found 275 abusers in Chicago, 69 in Joliet, 43 in Belleville, 51 in Peoria, 24 in Rockford and 32 in Springfield. The report by the attorney general’s office does include 149 members of religious orders who are not employed by any of the dioceses.   

    Of the 451 abusers identified by the report, Raoul said 330 are dead.   

    The report lists the name of each of the 451 abusers including the year they were ordained to the priesthood, any applicable religious order, parishes and schools they were assigned to in Illinois, the number of victims, the date and location of each incident of abuse, when the abuse was first reported to a diocese, when the abuse was publicly reported and any action taken against the abuser. It also includes several statements from survivors about individual priests who abused them.  

    The report shows the most significant reforms to combat abusive clergy members were implemented in 2002, but in some cases, dioceses did nothing. Allegations were made against Daniel McCormack, who was ordained in 1994 served at five Chicago parishes and abused 130 different children, but Chicago Cardinal Francis George took no action despite mounting allegations and an arrest in 2005 and a review board recommending McCormack be removed from ministry. McCormack was eventually arrested a year later and pleaded guilty to five felony charges.   

    Data in the report shows the abuse problem in Illinois Catholic Churches peaked in the 1980s with over 200 priests now being known abusers. Today the number is down to 50 after dioceses have implemented more reforms to investigate claims, increased involvement from law enforcement as well as many priests dying from old age.   

    Abuse cases in Chicago spiked in the 1980s under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin with nearly 120 abusive priests working under his watch. The number of abusive priests has dropped sharply since then and the report identifies less than 20 today under Cardinal Blase Cupich. Similar trends also appear in the five other dioceses and Cupich notes no known abusers are currently serving in ministry in archdioceses.   

    “We must think first of the survivors of sexual abuse who carry the burden of these crimes through their lives,” Cupich said in a statement Tuesday. “On behalf of the archdiocese, I apologize to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics. Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims.”  

    Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s name also appears several times in the report as a key leadership figure in the Springfield and Chicago dioceses. As an auxiliary bishop in Chicago, Paprocki gave presentations that appear to have educated investigators on how the church handled abuse investigations over the last 70 years.   

    According to the report, the Diocese of Springfield under Paprocki was the last diocese to provide the attorney general’s office with a list of sex abusers. Despite not previously releasing public reports on abuse before being confronted by the state in 2018, Paprocki said his predecessors failed to act with “virtuous intent” to protect parishioners from knowing about the abuse and that his diocese’s sexual abuse polices were “transparent.” When the diocese finally published abusers’ names in 2018, the report states they were buried in the depths of their website. The attorney general’s office was further troubled in the report by a pair of parishioners who went to Paprocki concerned about the diocese’s handling of abuse but felt ignored.   

    “The Diocese of Springfield has yet to reconcile itself with its past,” the report states. “To do that, the diocese must commit to transparency and survivor healing through deeds, listening to survivors and their pleas for trauma-informed responses. The diocese must also openly acknowledge that turning its back for half a century on the needs of children suffering sex abuse at the hands of its clerics was in no way ‘virtuous.’”  

    In a statement, Paprocki responded by saying reforms implemented by the Diocese of Springfield have worked as no cases of abuse have been reported in the last 20 years.   

    “As difficult as this process has been for all involved, especially the victim survivors, we credit the Attorney General’s office for bringing about greater transparency, and especially for keeping the spotlight on this issue to help us sustain the vigilance with which we guard against any future threats of abuse,” Paprocki said. “We hope the Attorney General’s office continues this vigilance for creating a safer environment with other institutions, and it doesn’t stop with just the Catholic Church.”   

    Cupich also made similar remarks.  

    Raoul, who said he was raised Catholic and sent his kids to Catholic schools, said the report should not be interpreted as him picking a bone with the Catholic Church.   

    “I have personally witnessed how the Catholic Church has made tremendous contributions in education, assisting disabled children, helping the homeless, advocacy against violence, efforts to provide hope to abused and neglected children and numerous other contributions the Church has made to our society for its betterment,” Raoul said. “However, it is precisely because of its many virtuous deeds and benevolence that we, the public and many families, put faith in the Catholic Church and its leaders in ways that we do not trust other establishments. But when such trust is betrayed with abuse to children and there are efforts to cover it up, the call for accountability should be resounding.”    

    The report comes with 50 pages of recommendations for the diocese to implement about reforming the investigations process including through using independent investigations, helping survivors of sexual abuse, communicating abuse with the public in a transparent way.  

    The report does not come with any criminal charges, however. Raoul said it is difficult in many cases to file criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired as many of the cases happened decades ago and the priests are now dead.   

    “Decades of Catholic leadership, decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide often in plain sight and because of the statute of limitations has frequently expired, many survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clerics will never see justice in a legal sense,” Raoul said. 

    Raoul said he hopes naming all the priests in the report, including those not known to the public until Tuesday, helps bring some measure of accountability.  

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