Criminal Justice

Nearly 2,000 children were sexually abused by members of Catholic clergy and religious orders, Illinois AG's investigation finds

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AP Corpus Christi Catholic Church 2021_800px

The steeple of the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in June 2021 in Galesburg, Illinois. Photo by Shafkat Anowar/The Associated Press.

At least 1,997 children were sexually abused by 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers in Illinois between 1950 and 2019, according to a report released Tuesday by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

The number of abusers dwarfs the 103 substantiated child sex abusers formerly listed by the Catholic dioceses of Illinois, according to a May 23 press release summarizing the state attorney general’s Report on Catholic Clergy Child Sex Abuse in Illinois.

The Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times also have coverage.

The religious brothers said to be abusers are primarily accountable to independent religious orders, rather than local dioceses, according to the New York Times. None of the named abusers is thought to be still active in ministry; at least 330 of them are thought to have died.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the number of Illinois victims is higher than the number named in an explosive 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found that more than a thousand child victims had been abused by more than 300 priests.

Raoul’s investigators reviewed more than 100,000 pages of diocese documents, interviewed diocesan leadership, and received more than 600 confidential contacts from survivors. The investigators recorded interviews with the survivors and drafted narrative accounts.

“The survivor narratives demonstrate a troubling pattern of the church failing to support survivors, ignoring or covering up reports of abuse, and survivors being revictimized by the church when they came forward to report being abused,” the press release said. “Repeatedly, church officials prioritized the reputation of the institution over protecting children.”

The report’s introduction said the window to bring a criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit has often closed by the time that survivors come forward, leaving survivors with little recourse.

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

The investigation began in 2018 under Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan.

The Illinois archdioceses said in a joint statement they reviewed their policies and made changes as a result of the investigation. According to the state attorney general’s press release, they have adopted uniform policies to improve handling of alleged child sex abuse.

Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a statement the Archdiocese of Chicago adopted policies and programs to “address the scourge of child sexual abuse and to support survivors” in 1992, according to the Chicago Tribune.

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