Catholic clergy in Illinois sexually abused over 1,900 minors, state says

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An investigation has substantiated child abuse claims against Catholic clergy in Illinois by more than 1,900 victims, state Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a news conference detailing the findings of the office's five-year investigation that uncovered hundreds more cases than first reported by the dioceses in 2018.

More than 100,000 pages of diocesan documents and 600 confidential contacts with survivors of child sex abuse helped the state's office piece together the 696-page report released Tuesday on clergy sexual abuse in all six Catholic dioceses in Illinois, the office said.

"It is my hope that this nearly 700-page report will provide some closure to survivors of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics by shining a light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust, and on the individuals in church leadership who covered up that abuse," Raoul said in a statement.

Raoul's predecessor, former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, began investigating the scope of state clergy sexual abuse in 2018 after a Pennsylvania grand jury report documented the abuse of 1,000 minors in six dioceses in that state, the office said. The revelations in that report shocked dioceses around the country and numerous state attorneys general pledged to investigate clergy within their own states – Illinois included.

At that time, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois publicly listed only 103 substantiated child sex abusers, the office said.

The investigation covered all six Illinois dioceses — Chicago, Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield — which serve the state's 3.5 million Catholics. Investigators substantiated child sex abuse allegations against 451 clerics and religious brothers. The largest number was in Chicago, where there were 150 reported abusers, and Joliet, with 52 reported abusers, the report found. Since some reported abusers were registered in two dioceses, there were a total of 494 substantiated abusers reported, the report said.

The report discloses the names of 451 substantiated child sex abusers and provided narratives and details on the abuse they committed while serving the Church. Some had a single victim, while others had dozens. One who died in 2015 abused 36 children while serving in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, and in Joliet; before retiring in 2005, another abused two children in the Diocese of Peoria. Yet another priest raped a 10-year-old girl in his classroom, the report said.

The depth and breadth of the sexual abuse varied – as did the punishments they received, the report states. In many instances, allegations were reported and not acted upon, the report found. In 1993, two survivors accused one priest at the Chicago Diocese of abuse, but the review board did not recommend that the priest be punished, the report said. Instead, the clergy had him monitored and he was still allowed to meet with teenage girls, the report found. The abuse continued and at least three more survivors reported abuse at the hands of the priest until in 2002 - almost a decade later – he was removed from the clergy, the report said.

One priest accused of abusing numerous young boys was known by the parish children as "Happy Hands," the report said, but he evaded punishment for years. Prosecutors often declined to move the case forward — an assistant state's attorney told Our Lady of the Snows parishioners, "It was our decision not to put the children through any court process, because we feel that our goal can be achieved without doing that," the report said. The priest moved from parish to parish after accusations against him started in 1990 but he didn't leave the Catholic church until 2008, the report said. He was never punished for his alleged abuses, the report said, and instead, he resides at "his cottage—the same residence where he had been accused so many times of abusing young boys."

At least 1,997 survivors reported being abused by Illinois clergy, the report said. Sexual abuse survivors shared their narratives – which were essential to the report's investigation said the Illinois Attorney General – and many spoke frankly about the struggles they've faced since their abuse.

Nearly every survivor struggled with mental health issues, the report found, with some turning to alcohol, addiction and others having anxiety, and feelings of unworthiness. One survivor called "Jeffrey" fell into "a deep depression because he felt he could not tell anyone about what had been done to him," the report read, and worked on his mental health for 30 years. Some survivors struggled with suicidal thoughts, while others dealt with physical health and financial issues.

One survivor, Terry Neary, believes that the public naming of sexual abusers is a "game changer" for child sexual abuse survivors.  Neary, who was abused by a priest, told investigators that a "public listing is an announcement by the church to survivors that 'we believe you.'"

In a lengthy statement Tuesday in response to the report, which also included a video, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said that "on behalf of the archdiocese, I apologize to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics. Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims."

Cupich did note that after reviewing the attorney general's report he had some "concerns about data that might be misunderstood or are presented in ways that could be misleading."

He wrote that all 451 substantiated abusers "were reported to civil authorities, none were undisclosed, none were 'hiding in plain sight' since at least 2002,'" and "no cleric with even one substantiated allegation against him is in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago."

In his statement, Cupich also alleged that the report implied that the "church is more worthy of investigation because it is a trusted religious organization."

"We think all children deserve to be protected regardless of whether they are cared for by a religious or secular institution," Cupich said. "It isn't fair or wise to focus only on the Catholic Church, which has made the greatest strides in this area."

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield said they are "not aware of a single incident of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy alleged to have occurred in this diocese in nearly 20 years."

He also said the diocese "is fully committed to ensuring we do all we can to prevent abuse from happening again."

Other dioceses — including Joliet, Peoria, Belleville and Rockford — listed lengthy statements and explanations on their websites in reaction to the report.

On May 18, in anticipation of its release, all six dioceses issued a joint statement outlining their commitment to "improve the transparency and effectiveness of their policies."

Request for comment from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was not immediately returned.

Mike McDonnell, a spokesperson for SNAP, a survivor network supporting victims of institutional sexual abuse, told CBS News, "This report clearly tells us that no one knew more about abuse, and no one did less about it, than these dioceses themselves."

In their view, "the bishops lied," said Larry Antonsen, who leads the network's Chicago chapter, and "these numbers are at once staggering and, unfortunately, likely an undercount."

The organization said the same level of criminal behavior by clerics and cover-up by Church officials can be found nationwide and they hope "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."

If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, RAINN offers free, anonymous help 24-7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org. Information on mental health care resources and support is available via The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or by emailing the organization at info@nami.org.

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