Catholic Church withheld names of more than 500 Illinois priests accused of abuse

By Brenden Moore | 19 December 2018
The State Journal-Register

Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich: “I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a preliminary report Wednesday revealing that Illinois’ six Catholic dioceses massively underreported allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and had withheld the names of more than 500 accused.

According to the report, Illinois Dioceses have received allegations related to sexual abuse for about 690 clergy, a far higher number than the 185 the church had identified as having been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse.

“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,” Madigan said. “The failure to investigate also means that the Catholic Church has never made an effort to determine whether the conduct of the accused priests was ignored or covered up by superiors.”

Madigan’s office said the Church had failed survivors at the outset by failing to investigate many of these allegations, and later on, by not providing support and services to those who had been abused.

Many of these cases were not deemed “credible” by the church, according to Madigan’s office, because the accused clergy member had passed away, left the priesthood, was a member of an order, or had left the country.

While the office cautioned that the investigation is ongoing, it “has reviewed enough information to conclude that the Illinois Dioceses will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.”

Madigan added that despite the preliminary stage of her office’s investigation, the Church has already demonstrated that it “cannot police itself.”

“Allegations of sexual abuse of minors, even if they stem from conduct that occurred many years ago, cannot be treated as internal personnel matters,” Madigan said.

In a statement, the Diocese of Springfield said it has cooperated with Madigan’s office for several months, assembling information from paper files dating back as early as 1923, when the diocese was established in Springfield.

“Reviewing these past cases has also reminded us that many years ago people didn’t publicly discuss the kind of salacious allegations documented in these files,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said in the statement. “A virtuous intent to protect the faithful from scandal unfortunately prevented the transparency and awareness that has helped us confront this problem more directly over the past fifteen years. We are continuing to learn and strive to improve our assistance for those who are victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.”

A spokesman for a national support group for those abused by clergy personnel Wednesday blasted Paprocki’s response to Madigan.

“Cover-ups are selfish, not virtuous, and continuing to cover for predator priests at this juncture is both selfish and irresponsible,” said David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, who is based in St. Louis. “The goal of church cover-ups is less about sparing ‘scandal’ to ‘the faithful’ and more about sparing embarrassment and possible criminal charges against the bishops.”

Clohessy said it was “disingenuous” for Paprocki to point out that people didn’t publicly discuss these kinds of “salacious allegations” because a key reason is that bishops hid abuse reports.

“That’s why people didn’t discuss them. The church hierarchy itself is what ‘prevented transparency and awareness’ of abuse,” said Clohessy.

Madigan opened the investigation in August following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing that church leaders covered up sexual abuse allegations made against more than 300 priests there in the past 70 years. At least seven identified in the report had ties to Illinois.

Dioceses across Illinois have since begun disclosing additional names of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors. The Archdiocese of Chicago has disclosed 10 additional names, the Peoria Diocese three names and the Rockford Diocese 15 names.

In response to the investigation, the Diocese of Springfield released the names of 19 priests — including a former bishop — that it confirmed were the subjects of substantiated charges of sexually abusing children.

Though individual priests had been named over the years, a Springfield Diocese spokesperson confirmed it was the first comprehensive list of abuse cases it has ever released.

The diocese has launched a website where the public can view the list priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, as determined by the Diocese’s Review Board. Paprocki last month said this ‘Promise’ website was set up “to provide a channel for dialog and transparency.” The website also shows graphics indicating that documented cases of abuse have been steadily declining since the 1970s.

Many were not satisfied with the diocese’s disclosure, criticizing Paprocki for excluding relevant information, such as the assignment histories for accused clergy or even where the alleged abuses took place.

Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul, who succeeds Madigan next month, said in a statement that ”(t)oday’s news demonstrates the need for ongoing diligence in investigating crimes against children taking place within institutions that do not have a history of unilateral, proactive transparency.”

Raoul confirmed that the investigation will continue after he takes office.

In a statement, SNAP said the revelations in the attorney general’s report show the necessity for independent investigations by outside law enforcement officials when cases of abuse are reported within a self-governing institution like the church.

“While this report highlights the shocking and awful details of sex abuse cover-ups in Illinois, we are confident that similar techniques and minimizing is happening in dioceses throughout the country,” the group said. “We hope that every single state looks for creative ways to follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania and Illinois in investigating clergy sex crimes and we also hope that the Federal Department of Justice is looking seriously into these crimes as well.”

According to the report, increased transparency will be necessary to achieve the Illinois dioceses’ goal of holding clergy accountable, noting that four of the six — including Springfield — had not even taken the basic step to publish a comprehensive list of those having been “credibly” accused until Madigan’s office got involved.

Other issues that the Church must address, the report says, are flawed processes and practices. For instance, the office found several examples of Illinois dioceses failing to notify law enforcement or the Department of Children and Family Services of allegations they received related to clergy sexual abuse of minors. Another issue raised was the lack of consistency across dioceses in terms and explanations used to determine whether or not an accused clergy committed sexual abuse or not.

Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, in a statement said that although he regretted “our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse,” the archdiocese has been a leader in dealing with the issue, including a policy since 2002 of reporting “all allegations of child sexual abuse to civil authorities.”

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Absolutely. Let's protect the faithful from scandal instead of pedophilia, sexual abuse and rape. Nevermind moral distress due to the degradation of our faith.

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