A report issued by Attorney General Kwame Raoul uncovered 451 credibly accused clergy members and at least 1,997 victims.
(Follow link to view photos/charts that accompany article.)
These are the shocking numbers we heard yesterday when Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released the results of his office’s investigation into child sex abuse in the six Catholic dioceses across the state:
451 credibly accused predators, including priests and non-ordained “religious brothers.” 149 of them had not been previously identified by the Church. 330 of them are dead.
1,997 victims since 1950. But almost certainly more who have not yet come forward.
“At least 20” victims for a single priest: Joseph L. Fitzharris. Eight other priests had at least 10 victims.
“9,726 years of abuse opportunities” in total for the alleged predators named in the report.
At least 10% of all priests and religious brothers in the Diocese of Belleville were substantiated predators in 2011.
100,000 pages of documents, held by the dioceses, examined by the attorney general’s team.
600+ leads from survivors who confidentially contacted the AG’s office via “emails, letters, voicemail messages, interviews, and phone calls.”
696 pages full of disturbing details about what those priests did and how Church leaders often looked the other way.
0 drag queens mentioned in the report.
These statistics may not be as shocking as they should be because we’re so used to them by now. For years, ever since a Pennsylvania grand jury report came out in 2018, we’ve seen report after report detailing these kinds of crimes. Hell, just last month, Maryland’s Attorney General Anthony Brown released his office’s 463-page report about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and I’m betting you’ve already forgotten about it.
But it’s still useful to understand what the Illinois report says—and what it says about the Church.
Last week, in anticipation of yesterday’s announcement, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich (pronounced SOUP-itch), Archbishop of Chicago, released a statement saying, “The Catholic Church in Illinois has been at the forefront of dealing with sexual abuse of minors for many years.”
Cupich was equally adamant he was in the clear in 2018 when then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched her investigation. He told seminarians at the time, “I’m confident that, when the attorney general looks in our files… that she will, in fact, find that we’re doing our job.”
They were not, in fact, doing their job. The report tells a very different story, one that should send shockwaves through the 3.5 million Catholics across the state—more than a quarter of the population.
Just look at this chart that shows the number of “substantiated Catholic cleric child sex abusers” disclosed by the Catholic Church before the Illinois investigation began in 2018 (103), how many were disclosed shortly after the investigation was launched (184), how many were disclosed by the time the investigation ended (320), and how many the attorney general’s team uncovered on their own (451).
That means the pressure put on the Church led to the dioceses increasing their own predator count by 217… and even then, they fell at least 131 short of what the government found. The final count of abusers was more than four times greater than what the Church was willing to admit on its own. The Catholic Church simply could not be trusted to tell the whole truth on its own.
The number of victims and abusers, the report says, are “far greater than those reported by the Pennsylvania grand jury.”
Why all the discrepancies? Part of the problem is that several of the dioceses in Illinois “were reluctant” to investigate allegations made against clergy members who were no longer on the payroll because they were dead, resigned, or laicized (and therefore no longer official representatives of the Church). Three of the six dioceses—including the largest one in Chicago—changes their policies to investigate all allegations because of the AG’s prodding.
Because of the lax policies—the usual mixture of reassigning alleged predators to different parishes, allowing accused priests to return to ministry following lazy investigations, failing to monitor alleged abusers, etc—the predators named in the report had a total of “9,726 years of abuse opportunities for child sex abusers.”
The report also found that the percentage of sex abusers in the ministry was 4.8% at its peak in 1988. It came down to 1.5% by 2019. The specifics are jaw-dropping:
In the 1990s in the Peoria, Joliet, and Belleville dioceses, more than 8% of their priests and religious brothers have been substantiated as child sex abusers. Even more alarming is that the Diocese of Belleville remained above 8% from 1991 through 2011, and even exceeded 10% in 2011. On the whole, from 1950 to 2002, the Archdiocese of Chicago and Diocese of Rockford had the lowest percentage of priests and brothers that are substantiated abusers, generally staying under 4% throughout this period.
Those numbers are a far cry from what the dioceses themselves reported in 2004:
To put that in perspective, the AG’s report included the self-reported number of alleged abusers and what they discovered in their own investigation:
It’s not just that the Catholic Church in Illinois housed so many alleged predators. The predators seemed to know their crimes would go unpunished by the Church.
Incidentally, a massive report conducted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 concluded that 3-6% of all priests in the country were alleged predators. The numbers in this report are much higher than that.
The report offers a handful of recommendations moving forward. Some of them are fairly obvious, like making sure each diocese has a straightforward way for victims to report allegations through their websites, like on the front page or one click away. That’s not currently the case:
To locate the Diocese of Rockford’s full policy on reporting sexual abuse, one must click through several links or search for the policy by name using the search bar tool on the diocese’s main page. This is too cumbersome and difficult. The two-page summary of Rockford’s full policy can be found at <a href="https://www.rockforddiocese.org/protecting-gods-children/," rel="nofollow noopener noreferrer" target="_blank" class="forumlink">[rockforddiocese.org],</a> but this link is not directly accessible from the diocese’s main page. Information that instructs how to report child sex abuse should be easily accessible, clear, and concise. There is no justification for the approach taken by the Diocese of Rockford on this issue.
The report also urges dioceses to adopt a policy to disclose the number of sexual abuse allegations against a priest if asked, even if those allegations have not yet been substantiated.
Some states have responded to these reports by reopening a window for filing sexual abuse lawsuits that had previously been closed due to statutes of limitations. In Illinois—surprisingly, perhaps, because it’s a fairly progressive state—such a window has not been created. That’s largely because it can’t be created through legislation; it would required an amendment to the Illinois Constitution, which is a much longer and more arduous process.
But that doesn’t mean the dioceses themselves couldn’t create an independent mediation and compensation program, the report says.
At least 27 United States dioceses have established independent mediation and compensation programs for survivors of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics, including the nation’s two largest, the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and New York. The Illinois Dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Chicago—the third largest in the nation—should join their peers in ensuring that the experiences of survivors are handled with care and appropriately compensated.
I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the Church to finally do the right thing.
Ultimately, the only real consequence the Catholic Church in Illinois will ever face is the exodus of worshipers who call themselves Catholic. If you’re an Illinoisan who still attends or supports the Catholic Church with your time or money, you’re complicit in their actions. It’s not too late to break ties. Tradition is no excuse to prop up a criminal institution. If that leads to more of these dioceses going bankrupt, no one who cares about the victims is going to shed a tear. The Church has enough property and stashed artwork to sell to cover the costs of the trauma they’ve inflicted upon victims. The “groomers” are coming from inside the house.
And that’s before we even get into the additional harm the Church has caused due to its anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ beliefs.
It’s long past time for the Catholic Church in Illinois (and everywhere else for that matter) to suffer for what it’s done to members.