Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a preliminary report Dec. 19 saying that the six Catholic dioceses in Illinois have received allegations of sexual abuse of children against 500 clergy members whose names have not been made public.
Cardinal Cupich responded the same day with a statement that emphasized the regret of the church for past failures, praised the courage of victim-survivors and touted the work of the archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.
“I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse. It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history,” the statement said. “Their bravery spurred my predecessor Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to establish an archdiocesan special commission in 1991 to examine this terrible crisis, and to develop a robust set of procedures to protect young people from predators and to establish supportive services for victim-survivors and their families. Those efforts continue today in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, which is staffed by lay professionals with backgrounds in investigative services, education, social work and therapeutic services. They work daily to protect and heal. There can be no doubt about the constant need to strengthen our culture of healing, protection, and accountability. While the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago, many victim-survivors continue to live with this unimaginable pain.”
Cardinal Cupich in November was named to the organizing committee for a February meeting of the world’s bishops in Rome to address the abuse crisis.
Madigan’s 10-page report does not specify how many allegations came from each of the six dioceses, who the allegations were made against or how far back they go.
A spokesperson for the office, speaking on background, could say only that the allegations go back “decades,” with some number of the allegations coming before the 1990s. The office also would not say which dioceses the allegations come from.
The files provided by the Archdiocese of Chicago go back as far as the archdiocese has records of allegations, said William Kunkel, the archdiocese’s general counsel.
“The earliest allegations you would see are of behavior that occurred in the 1950s,” he said, although the abuse may not have been reported until decades later. “The part that tends to get lost in this issue is that as far as the archdiocese is concerned, the vast majority of these incidents occurred prior to 2002, even prior to 1992.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago established its ministry to help victims of clergy sexual abuse in 1991, and in 1992 created a hotline for reporting abuse and adopted policies and procedures for the safeguarding of children. Those policies served as the model for the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the U.S. Catholic bishops a decade later, he said.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago has been at this a very long time,” Kunkel said. “We were on the forefront in terms of assistance ministry to victims and in terms of education and training our employees and our volunteers and our students to prevent abuse. And we have some very fine people who investigate these allegations.”
Speaking to media on Dec. 19, Madigan acknowledged that she could not say how many of the 500 allegations were credible. However, the preliminary report notes that the six dioceses have publicly reported “substantiated” or “credible” claims against a total of 185 clergy members, or just over a quarter of the claims they received.
The archdiocesan website protect.archchicago.org lists 75 priests – 71 of them archdiocesan – and two deacons as having substantiated allegations made against them.
That list grew by 10 names in November. At that time, the archdiocese added the two priests who are members of religious orders, the two extern priests, the two deacons and four priests against whom allegations were received after they died. All of them except the two extern priests – one from India and one from Poland – were deceased when their names were added to the list.
They were among 45 names made public by all six dioceses during the attorney general’s investigation.
Since 2002, the archdiocese has reported all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities. That year, the archdiocese also reported historical allegations of abuse to the state’s attorneys of Cook and Lake counties, Kunkel said.
The archdiocese looks into all allegations it receives, Kunkel said, although the level of the investigation might be less when the priest is deceased or no longer in active ministry.
Allegations against deceased priests do not go to the Independent Review Board because they no longer pose a threat to children. Neither do allegations against those who have been laicized, because there is no question of fitness for ministry, according to Leah McCluskey, director of the Office of Child Abuse Investigations and Review, in an October interview.
Allegations of religious order priests and extern priests are reported to civil authorities and reported to their religious communities or home dioceses for further investigation, and the priests’ faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago are withdrawn. However, the archdiocese follows up on investigations of incidents that took place in its institutions, Kunkel said.
The spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said that while some of the allegations that were not made public may have been reported to civil authorities by the Illinois dioceses, not all of them were. Kunkel said that to the best of his knowledge, all allegations received by the Archdiocese of Chicago have been reported to the Cook and Lake County State’s Attorneys offices, and those offices were given the opportunity to review the files of all of the clergy members who were accused.
According to the attorney general’s report, many of the allegations that were not made public fall into the categories of those made against deceased priests or order priests.
“Failing to investigate deceased or resigned clergy ignores both the impact such a decision has on survivors seeking closure and that an investigation might lead other survivors to come forward,” the report said. “Failing to investigate also makes it impossible to determine whether other clergy, including those who are alive and involved with the church, helped conceal the abuse.”
The report also chastised the Illinois dioceses for failing to substantiate allegations when only one victim-survivor came forward, and for focusing on survivors’ personal lives.
Kunkel said that the Archdiocese of Chicago’s investigations have substantiated allegations made by a single victim in several cases.
Madigan began her investigation in August after the publication of a Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found that there were more than 1,000 credible allegations against more than 300 priests in the state over the past 70 years. That 900-page report was the result of an 18-month investigation. At least 13 states and the District of Columbia have announced they are conducting their own investigations since then.
At the upcoming meeting on protecting minors, Pope Francis wants leaders of the world's bishops' conferences to clearly understand what must be done to prevent abuse, care for victims and ensure no case is whitewashed or covered up.
"Let it be clear that before these abominations, the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes," the pope said Dec. 21 during his annual pre-Christmas meeting with officials of the Curia.
The surprising news in November that the Vatican had asked U.S. bishops not to vote on several proposals for responding to the sexual abuse crisis was motivated by a lack of time given the Vatican to study the proposals and potential conflicts with church law, according to a letter obtained by the Associated Press.