Illinois Catholic Church withheld 500 Accused Priests’ Names

(Dec. 27, 2018)  The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Illinois Catholic Church withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors.  The Illinois attorney general accused the church of failing victims by neglecting to investigate their allegations.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan concluded in a preliminary report that Illinois’ Catholic dioceses are incapable of investigating themselves.  She said that church officials, “will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.”

Ms. Madigan reported that 690 priests were accused of abuse, but the dioceses made only 185 names public of those who have been found credibly accused of abuse.

“The number of allegations above what was already public is shocking,” Ms. Madigan said.

The report is Illinois’ state prosecutors’ latest attempt to hold the Catholic Church accountable by examining the church’s own records. At least 16 state attorneys general have initiated various investigations since August 2018, which have included examination of the church’s own records.

The movement to uncover the truth about clergy sexual abuse of minors began in Illinois and other states across the country following a shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report which came out in the summer of 2018.  That was when the Pennsylvania grand jury accused more than 300 priests of sexual abuse over a 50-year span. And just as shocking, if not moreso, they also accused Catholic bishops of covering up the scandal, which some clergy abuse lawyers, as well as priests, have suggested goes all the way to the Vatican, and stems from a culture of corruption, even a “lavender mafia,” a secret gay culture within the church that at least one priest says runs the church.

Church covered for Abusers

Unlike Pennsylvania’s 1,356 pages of a grand jury report, Illinois’ nine-page report does not name accused priests or call out particular bishops for negligence.  It does, however, question the enormous gap between the number of accusations made by victims who dared to contact the church, and the number of accusations the church deemed credible.

Ms. Madigan’s office report noted that three-fourths of the allegations against clergy were either not investigated or were investigated but not substantiated by the dioceses papers turned over to the attorney general’s office.

A pattern emerged from the files: the dioceses often failed to find a claim credible if only one victim reported.  The dioceses also failed to investigate at all if the accused priest had died or been reassigned, or if he belonged to a religious order  – such as the Franciscans, Marists, or Jesuits. The report said the dioceses often discredited survivors’ claims by “focusing on the survivors’ personal lives,” which is a pattern that was also found in the Boston clergy abuse scandal that was uncovered by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight and made into a 2016 movie.

Church Cooperation

The Illinois report said that representatives of all six dioceses cooperated with the investigation by meeting with the attorney general and her staff.  The six voluntarily produced thousands of documents and gave access to hundreds of clergy files related to abuse allegations.

Once the attorney general’s office began investigating, the Illinois dioceses disclosed the names of 45 more clergymen deemed by the church to be credibly accused of sexual abuse.  Most were cases about which the dioceses had known for years.

Cardinal Apology

“I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Chicago’s.  “It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history.”

Roman Catholics have long dominated some Chicago neighborhoods and held a place in the political fabric of the city.  Thirty-three percent of Chicago-area residents are Catholic, ranking it among the top five most Catholic of American cities.

A spokeswoman in the Chicago area’s branch of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), Kate Bochte, said the idea that nearly three-quarters of the allegations were not deemed credible was a “huge indicator that the church is incapable” of investigating itself.

“[T]hink about all those people who came in – 75 percent of the people – what happened to them?” asked Ms. Bochte. “They were basically turned away after they explained the most difficult thing that had ever happened to them.”

300 More Victims?

Ms. Madigan said that survivors of abuse were owed a sense that their concerns were being pursued.  Since her office announced a hotline for survivors to report such abuse several months ago, 300 people have called.

The attorney general, who will leave office in a couple of weeks, also said she wanted to release her findings before the American bishops gather at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago in early January 2019.  About 300 bishops are expected at a weeklong spiritual retreat ordered by Pope Francis to pray and reflect on the church’s role in the sexual abuse of children.

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