An Illinois attorney general’s office investigation released this week found that 451 Catholic clergy sexually abused nearly 2,000 children in the state over a period spanning nearly 70 years. These figures are significantly higher than the 103 individuals previously acknowledged by the church when the state’s review began in 2018.
During a press conference, Attorney General Kwame Raoul shared that investigators discovered cases of 1,997 children who had suffered abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy in Illinois between 1950 and 2019. It is important to note, however, that the statute of limitations has expired in many of these cases, denying the victims the possibility of legal justice.
“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said, crediting the accusers for making the review possible. “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.”
The comprehensive report outlines the painfully slow response of Illinois church leaders in acknowledging the true extent of the abuse. It also accuses them of often delaying action in confronting accused clergy members and failing to alert their congregations about potential abusers in their midst, even when allegations had surfaced decades earlier.
This investigation was initiated in 2018 by Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, who issued a scathing report before leaving office. Raoul, committed to pursuing the investigation, stated that over 25 staff members meticulously reviewed more than 100,000 pages of diocesan documents and engaged in over 600 confidential interactions with various contacts.
The report includes harrowing testimonies from survivors, some of whom contemplated suicide following the abuse and turned to substance abuse as a means of coping with the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and unworthiness. For instance, one survivor, identified as “David” in the report, disclosed that the childhood sexual abuse by a priest significantly impacted his career, financial stability, and ability to maintain employment. David recounted a series of job losses, stating that he has “left, quit, or was fired from every job he’s ever had.”
“Survivors spoke of years, and often decades, struggling with challenges including insomnia, anxiety, trust issues, nightmares, suicidal ideation, guilt, addiction, alcoholism, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, issues creating and maintaining relationships, and sexual side effects,” according to the report.
Upon the release of the report, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement describing the findings as “stunning.” They further emphasized that the numbers of victims and abusers cited by state investigators are likely underestimated, implying that the extent of the abuse may be even more extensive than revealed.
“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,” the group said. “It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on Monday called abuse “repugnant” but said the church in 1992 began overhauling its policies and programs and cooperated fully with the state’s review.
“My hope is that the release of this report will be an occasion for the attorney general to issue a rallying cry to all adults to join in the work of safeguarding children, lest this moment be a lost opportunity,” Cupich said. “I stand ready to continue to do my part.”
The preliminary report conducted under Madigan found that the dioceses had done a woefully inadequate job of investigating abuse allegations. Raoul, too, accused Catholic leaders of making decisions and policies that “allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight.”
In its statement Tuesday, SNAP also called on other attorneys general and prosecutors to initiate similar investigations of Catholic dioceses under their authority.
“For many survivors, secular investigations like this will open an area for new conversations, healing among fellow victims, and assisting communities to comprehend the horrors of their past and the risk of their present,” the group said. “When the legal system fails to provide victims with justice, statewide investigations can assist citizens and survivors in communicating essential facts about the global scourge of child sexual abuse.”