Illinois attorney general releases report on clergy sexual abuse across state's Catholic dioceses

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul holds a press conference on his office’s investigation into child sexual abuse in the state's Catholic dioceses on May 23, 2023 at State Office Building, 555 W. Monroe St. (Cynthia Flores-Mocarski/Chicago Catholic)

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a report on sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Illinois on May 23, announcing that members of his team identified 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who have been accused of abusing 1,997 children in Illinois’ six dioceses over the past nearly 70 years.

Raoul praised the leaders of all six of Illinois’ dioceses for cooperating with the investigation and for acting on recommendations to increase the transparency of their efforts to keep children safe, hold abusers accountable and help survivors of abuse by clergy members to heal.

In his response to the report, Cardinal Cupich reiterated the archdiocese’s commitment to survivors of clerical sexual abuse as well. (Watch video message)

“We must think first of the survivors of sexual abuse who carry the burden of these crimes through their lives,” he said in a statement. “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.”

However, Raoul said the six dioceses of Illinois have not published the names of all the accused who are named in the report. According to the report, the names of 149 men alleged to have sexually abused children have not been disclosed on the dioceses’ websites.

Cardinal Cupich said the way that information is presented could be misleading. All allegations of sexual abuse of children received by the Archdiocese of Chicago are reported to civil authorities, regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse happened and whether the accused perpetrator is still alive, so it should not be said that the allegations are “not disclosed.”

“None was undisclosed, none was ‘hiding in plain sight,’” the cardinal said.

All allegations have been reported to civil authorities since 2002, said James Geoly, the archdiocese’s general counsel. That same year, the archdiocese also turned over all previously unreported allegations to authorities.

“No cleric with even one substantiated allegation against him is in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” the cardinal’s statement continued. “When we learn of an allegation of abuse, we act promptly, report it to civil authorities, remove the accused from ministry and investigate the allegation. Allegations are submitted to our lay-majority Independent Review Board for investigation. In accordance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, clerics found to have committed even one act of child sexual abuse are permanently removed from ministry.

“The archdiocese has, to our knowledge, reported all allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy to civil authorities, including the oldest allegations. We report these allegations regardless of whether the accused is alive or dead, a diocesan priest, an extern priest from another diocese or a religious order priest. We consider an allegation to have been made even if the report is made anonymously, has incomplete facts (such as the name of the priest or parish) or is made by a third party, and we report all such allegations to civil authorities. It is important to emphasize that, to our knowledge, there are no ‘hidden,’ ‘undisclosed’ or ‘unreported’ allegations of child sexual abuse by the clergy of this archdiocese.”

The report itself offers a history of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s response to allegations of clerical sexual abuse, noting that the archdiocese was among the first to establish an independent review board, with a majority of lay members, to investigate allegations and the first to establish an Office of Assistance Ministry to help survivors. Both were created by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1992.

Cardinal Cupich noted that the archdiocese’s assistance ministry is not only the first but the largest in the nation.

“We provide assistance to anyone making an allegation, regardless of whether the accused is living or whether the allegation is substantiated,” he said.

In 2002, under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying Essential Norms, the archdiocese committed to permanently removing clergy members from ministry after a single substantiated allegation.

According to the report, only two of the state’s dioceses — the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet — publicly listed clergy members with substantiated allegations of abuse when former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan started the investigation in the wake of a similar report released in Pennsylvania in 2018.

At the time the investigation began, the two dioceses listed 103 priests with credible or substantiated allegations. Over the 4½ years of the investigation, the remaining four dioceses created their own public lists, and both the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet added names to their lists. Groups of priests added to the list in the Archdiocese of Chicago included those who had died before the archdiocese  received its first allegations against them, and members of religious orders who had ministered in the archdiocese.

The archdiocese added those groups last year at the recommendation of the attorney general.

However, Raoul said, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois still have not published the names of all the clerics and religious brothers who have substantiated allegations against them.

According to the report, the Archdiocese of Chicago website lists 150 priests and deacons who had credible allegations against them. The attorney general’s report lists 275 men, some of them religious brothers, who it says should be listed as having credible allegations of sexual abuse.

Geoly said some of the men flagged as not being on the archdiocesan website actually are there; five others are extern priests who were ordained for other dioceses. The rest are religious order priests or lay brothers.

The archdiocese was unaware of allegations against any of those priests and the attorney general’s office did not provide that information until May 23, Geoly said. The archdiocese will investigate whether they have served in a ministry of the archdiocese and whether their religious congregations or home dioceses have received allegations against them. If so, they will be added to the list on the archdiocesan site.

But, Geoly said, religious brothers are laymen and are not included on the list of clergy members with allegations against them.

In introducing the report, Raoul said that his mother was a devoted Catholic, that he was baptized and confirmed Catholic and his children attended Catholic schools.

“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 help abused and neglected children and numerous other contributions to our society,” he said. “However, it is precisely because of its many virtuous deed and benevolence that we … put faith in the Catholic Church and its leaders in ways that we don’t trust other establishments.”

Once that trust is betrayed, he said, the church must be held accountable.

Cardinal Cupich said that accountability must extend to all institutions that care for children.

“We think all children deserve to be protected regardless of whether they are cared for by a religious or secular institution; it isn’t fair or wise to focus only on the Catholic Church, which has made the greatest strides in this area,” he said, noting a substantial decline in cases since the 1990s.

While the attorney general’s report includes allegations going back decades, members of his staff, when asked, said the most recent allegation took place more than 10 years ago; while some cases that might not have been beyond the statute of limitations were referred to local prosecutors, none of the information in the report led to new criminal charges, as far as the attorney general’s office knows, a staff member said during the  press conference.

The Illinois report goes beyond the Pennsylvania report that inspired it by offering recommendations for how dioceses can be more transparent, protect children and help survivors heal going forward, Raoul said.

As the report noted, some of those were implemented in the Archdiocese of Chicago before the investigation began, such as maintaining separate offices for investigation of allegations and assistance to survivors.

Others include creating more uniform standards, policies and procedures among the six dioceses than those announced earlier in May, and exercising more oversight over religious communities in the dioceses.

Some of those recommendations may not be possible under canon law, Geoly noted.

Read Cardinal Cupich's full statement here.


  • clergy sexual abuse

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