SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests [Chicago IL]
May 23, 2023
(For Immediate Release May 23, 2023)
On Friday afternoon, all six of Illinois’ Catholic dioceses sent out a sudden press statement, written in concert, that describes the policies and procedures each institution has in place to protect children from abuse. With today’s news, we now know why those Church leaders felt the need to remind parents and parishioners about these policies – because thanks to the work of the investigators at the Illinois Attorney General’s office, it is now apparent to us that those policies are weak, vague, and rarely followed.
In a stunning report, A.G. Kwame Raoul’s office has described the ways that Catholic leaders in every diocese in the state have acted in concert to protect abusive priests, to keep the public from learning about those crimes, and to push back on survivors and their loved ones who came forward in hopes of preventing other cases of abuse.
According to the report, more than 450 priests have abused nearly 2000 children in Illinois since 1950. These numbers are at once staggering and, unfortunately, likely an undercount.
For many survivors, secular investigations like this will open an area for new conversations, healing among fellow victims, and assisting communities to comprehend the horrors of their past and the risk of their present. When the legal system fails to provide victims with justice, statewide investigations can assist citizens and survivors in communicating essential facts about the global scourge of child sexual abuse.
Because of this, we are grateful to the dedicated investigators from the A.G. office who spoke for thousands of hours to hundreds of survivors, making sure their experiences as victims of Church-sponsored abuse and cover-up were adequately represented. We are especially grateful to those survivors, without whom no report would ever have been released and Catholic leaders would continue to misrepresent the number of abusers to whom Illinois children were exposed.
And let us be clear, in our view the bishops lied. There is no questioning the facts of the report – until 2018 when the investigation began, hierarchs in every Illinois diocese kept known abusers under wraps, declined to include them on their accused lists, and refused to acknowledge the truth that survivors of abuse who came forward to make a report shared with them. It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly. It is, in a word, arrogant that they believed their lies would somehow remain secret even in the face of a secular investigation. We are grateful that their disgusting arrogance has now been publicly exposed.
The stories from survivors contained within this report are harrowing to read, and while each story is unique in its own terrible way, they are also alike in key areas. First, almost all of these survivors were ignored by the Catholic leaders to whom they reported. In nearly every case, Church officials chose to accept the words of abusers and the recommendations of other trash-passing bishops that it was the priest who was innocent, not the victimized child. Second, Catholic leaders artfully and purposefully utilized the statute of limitations to ensure that the criminals they hired, trained, and ordained could not be brought to justice. Third, they deceived the parishioners in their pews, telling them that they had cleaned up their act while they were still quietly transferring abusers from parish to parish, giving them new hunting grounds.
According to the report, a remarkable number of children in Illinois were actively put in danger and exposed to abusers by the named bishops. It enrages us that most of these men cannot be brought to justice due to archaic and predator-friendly statutes of limitations. So instead, we call for Illinoisans to join us in demanding public rebuke and recrimination.
Any building that bears the name of any of these men, or the officials who enabled them, should be renamed. Any mention of them should not be done in an honorable way, but in a cautionary way that demonstrates the danger of arrogance and self-policing. Catholic schools across the state are named for many of these bishops. Instead of placards joyfully talking about their titles, they should be replaced with memorials to survivors and apologies for the cover-ups committed by their namesakes.
But beyond removing honors for abusers and enablers, we must come together to provide justice and healing for survivors and true prevention for children today and into the future. A key barrier to all three of these things is the statute of limitations. We are grateful that Illinois removed criminal SOL several years ago, and we believe the next most important step is the opening of a civil window that would allow expired and time-barred claims to be heard in a court of law. States like New York and California have enacted such laws and the result has been healing for survivors, important information for parents, and valuable lessons for institutions. We recognize that there is a constitutional barrier to such a window in Illinois, but also believe that now is the time to remove that barrier. Survivors deserve justice, children deserve protection, and abusers and enablers deserve to be held accountable.
The sad fact that we have learned from this and other reports is this: we believe that any law enforcement agency investigating nearly any Catholic diocese in the United States would find precisely the same level of criminal behavior by clerics, and the same level of cover-up by Church officials. We truly hope that more attorneys general and local prosecutors across the country will have the guts to dig deeper and investigate Catholic dioceses and institutions in their locale.
Larry Antonsen, SNAP Leader Chicago (773-255-3382 email@example.com) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org, 267-261-0578), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (email@example.com, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)