Child sex abuse by Illinois Catholic clergy spans state and decades, AG investigation finds

WLS - ABC 7 [Chicago IL]

May 23, 2023

By Jessica D'Onofrio, Chuck Goudie, and Barb Markoff and Christine Tressel

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s report on Catholic priest child sexual abuse details hundreds of cases across the state.

CHICAGO (WLS) — A long-awaited five year investigation has turned up hundreds of new horror stories of child sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in Illinois, the attorney general alleged on Tuesday morning.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s “Report on Catholic Clergy Child Sex Abuse in Illinois” is 696 pages long was was unveiled at a downtown Chicago briefing with reporters.

The report focuses on decades of old and new abuse cases in the state’s six dioceses: Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield and Chicago, which is known as an Archdiocese due to its large size.

Nearly 2000 survivors of Catholic church sexual abuse in Illinois were documented by state investigators, according to the attorney general.

Nearly every survivor exhibited “some form of mental health challenge in the years after the abuse” the authorities determined.

Although many of the cases are historical, going back decades and the subject of previous reporting, survivors remain in need. “The Catholic dioceses and archdiocese in Illinois can, and should, recommit to providing those survivors the ongoing support they need and deserve” said Raoul’s report.

There are 3.5 million Roman Catholics in Illinois, according to the AG’s report. They, and the dioceses, have been plagued by persistent priest sexual misconduct for decades-with varying attempts to weed out violators, deal with survivors and put reporting controls in place.

Attorney General Raoul inherited a statewide church child sex abuse investigation from his predecessor, AG Lisa Madigan.

The just-released state investigative report outlines pervasive and perverted child sexual abuse and criminal assaults by Roman Catholic clergymen, and a legion of survivors who describe in vivid detail harrowing stories of suffering in silence, sometimes for dozens of years.

There are numerous named examples in the report of minors sexually abused by priests who were mistreated by church officials across the state. A common problem, especially in the 1980’s and 90’s according to cases cited in the report, was that some bishops and diocesan leaders would transfer and protect accused priests to other parishes, with little or no information about their wrongdoing provided to new parishioners or co-workers.

State investigators examined more than 100,000 documents and had contact with more than 600 survivors of priest sex abuse. Before their investigation began there were 103 substantiated Catholic Church child sex abusers in Illinois-the result of individual cases reported by church officials under loosely enforced guidelines.

Now, with the additional findings from the attorney general, there are 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers cited as bonafide youth sex abusers according to the report.

The newly released data for Illinois is significantly worse than what was determined during a similar investigation by a Pennsylvania grand jury and released in 2018-a report that prompted Illinois’ investigation.

While the report cites many steps forward in the policing and punishment of sexually abusive churchmen across the Catholic dioceses of Illinois, there are also sharp criticisms of how sexual abuse allegations against priests have been handled-even recently-and how survivors of priest sexual abuse are treated.

The report notes wide differences to this day in how diocesan leaders respond to allegations of sexual abuse by their clergymen.

Chicago was at times heralded for it’s groundbreaking attack on clergy sex abuse “compared with the rest of the nation” the report states. “Even so, its leaders made glaring missteps long the way and serial predators were at times given ample opportunity to abuse well beyond the time they should have been removed from ministry.”

Former Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who literally wrote the book on how dioceses should deal with clergy sex abuse, was both praised and criticized in the report depending which case was cited.

One particular complaint against Chicago church leaders involved the way allegations of dead priests were handled during the decades. At times the archdiocese refused to make allegations against dead priests public or submit information to local investigators because there was “no longer a risk” perceived. The Chicago Archdiocese “failed to recognize the need for survivor healing” in those cases, according to the report.

In the report however, the Chicago Archdiocese “has done much to improve its handling of child sex abuse claims” the past 30 years.

The most critical words in the report appear reserved for the Diocese of Joliet, once headed by Bishop Joseph Imesch. According to the attorney general Imesch oversaw an “off-the-books” handling of pedophile priests that derailed justice for abuse survivors. The report was sharply critical of Imesch’s “concentration of power” that “became disastrous” in cases of sexually abusive priests in which he “covered up abuse by shipping off priests to unsuspecting parishes.”

Imesch is quoted by state authorities for a disparaging remark about an ABC7 news report in April, 2000. “It’s unfortunate, I think, that Channel 7 considers it newsworthy to report on something that happened 20 years ago.” The story concerned a priest convicted of child sex abuse being allowed to minister again in the Diocese of Joliet.

Investigators found that Bishop Imesch cast blame on others for the Joliet church problems and mistreated abuse survivors. Imesch died in December of 2015 and despite a belief by survivor’s rights organizations that he should have been prosecuted, he never faced charges.

Although a new bishop is in place in Joliet, the attorney general remains critical of the Joliet Diocese power structure-stating that there is still an undue concentration of power and responsibility solely in the top diocesan bishop.

Illinois six dioceses are just receiving the reports on Tuesday, along with the public, as the AG’s office kept details under wraps until officially releasing the lengthy document.

Although some people who are quoted in the report refer to themselves as “victims” or having been “victimized” by clergymen, the authors of the attorney general’s report purposely chose to use the term “survivors.” There seems no perfect terminology for such heinous acts and life-changing abuse the attorney general admits, they contend. “Neither term is appropriate for all” the report states. “Some victims do not see themselves as survivors, no matter how much time has passed since the abuse. A man who suffered child sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic cleric told Attorney General investigators that ‘many victims will become survivors when this report is published.’ The Attorney General’s report is released with the fervent hope that the sentiment comes to pass, which is why the term ‘survivor’ is used throughout.”

A group called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as “snap,” said Tuesday that the new numbers are staggering and they believe those numbers will increase.

SNAP says this investigation promotes healing but they still believe the Catholic Church is still not being fully transparent.

“No one knew more about the horrors and history of abusive clergy and no one did less than these diocese themselves,” the group said.

ABC7 has reached out to the six dioceses for comment.

To view the report, visit