Nearly 2,000 abused by Catholic clergy in Illinois, state AG’s probe finds

Washington Post

May 23, 2023

By Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff

Nearly 2,000 children across Illinois were sexually abused by 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers over the past seven decades, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced in an investigation report released Tuesday. The number of accused abusers is significantly larger than the 103 the Catholic dioceses of Illinois had publicly listed in 2018, when the investigation was first launched.

“These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence,” Raoul said in a statement released with the report.

The report detailed accusations of lengthy coverups and horrific narratives of repeated abuse after investigators reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents and received more than 600 contacts from survivors. Accounts include clergy getting three brothers drunk soon after their father died before having sex with them; reaching into the pants of boys at a Halloween party, then receiving a new assignment in another state; and abusing more than 20 young boys over two decades, including giving a 14-year-old a drink with a strange taste then raping him, before finally being charged.

The Illinois Catholic Dioceses frequently failed to hold offending priests accountable, the report showed, instead reassigning them or downplaying parents’ concerns.

“Is there not some other way to protect children + at the same time not destroy the accused, e.g., leave the accused in place but assign a monitor, spell out his restrictions, inform leadership, etc. (‘house arrest’ is better than public disgrace),” Raymond Goedert, who was serving as one of the archdiocese’s top officials at the time, wrote in a handwritten note reviewed by the attorney general’s office.

The report, the 21st of its kind in the last two decades, is the latest in a renewed effort by civil authorities to conduct comprehensive investigations into the specifics of sex abuse allegations from Catholic clergy. In 2018, then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) chronicled abuses across the state, inspiring over a dozen attorneys general, including Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, to examine similar abuse in their states.

Madigan had accused the Catholic Church of lowballing the scope of sex-abuse allegations in 2018. The 696-page report released Tuesday, also available in Spanish and Polish, includes hundreds of pages of examples of allegedabuse while listing the name of every single accused abuser.

“It’s clear from the investigation and now the report that the archdiocese and the five other dioceses have acknowledged the offending priests in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Terry McKiernan of Bishop Accountability, a Catholic research and advocacy group.

On Friday, the state’s Catholic leaders released a statement saying they “act immediately” when receiving an allegation of sexual abuse.

“We are committed to continuously reviewing our policies and will carefully consider any changes recommended by the Attorney General,” Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said in a statement Tuesday.“Indeed, the archdiocese has already implemented a number of recommendations the Attorney General made during the course of the investigation such as expansion of the parameters of our website list.”

The general counsel of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Jim Geoly, told The Washington Post that that meant including deceased priests and priests from different religious orders, which the archdiocese had not done before receiving recommendations to do so from the attorney general during the investigation. The latest significant update to its list of offenders was made in October of last year.

Geoly added that the archdiocese will review the names of the more than 100 clergy whom the attorney general found were linked to allegations ofsexual abuse and that the archdiocese could add them to its list.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which has its roots in Chicago, said in a statement Tuesday that the findings by the attorney general’s office are probably an undercount.

“And let us be clear, in our view the bishops lied,” the statement read. “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.”

In April, the Maryland attorney general released a report that found that, within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, over 600 young people sufferedsexual abuse and “physical torture” by more than 150 clergy members from the mid-1940s to 2002.

A judge ordered that names of those not known to be deceased and who had not been listed as accused by the Archdiocese of Baltimore be redacted, however. That wasn’t the case for the Illinois one, which listed the names of all the accused abusers and the stories of their allegedabuse, along with the date and location of the reported abuse.

Illinois is home to 3.5 million Catholics who made up 27 percent of the state’s population in 2019, according to the Catholic Conference of Illinois, as well as 2,215 priests, 949 parishes and 260 religious brothers.

Michelle Boorstein contributed to his report.