Background: Illinois is the latest state to detail decades of abuse.
Attorneys general and grand juries in a number of states have investigated sexual abuse in the church, including an investigation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore that was released last month. The multiple investigations were inspired by a comprehensive 2018 report on six dioceses in Pennsylvania that stunned Catholics across the country.
The Illinois report was initiated by Lisa Madigan, Mr. Raoul’s predecessor as attorney general, who early in her investigation identified a significant gap between the number of clergy members who had been credibly accused and the much smaller number disclosed by the church. “The number of allegations over what was already public is shocking,” she told The New York Times in 2018.
Why it matters: Questions about abuse by Illinois clergy members have lingered for years.
The effects of the clergy sex abuse crisis have rippled through the Catholic Church in the United States for decades and burst into the public eye 20 years ago when The Boston Globe documented a widespread cover-up of abuse in church settings.
The Illinois Catholic Conference estimates that Catholics make up about 27 percent of the state’s population, above the national average for states.
In the early 1990s, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago led a pioneering commission on sexual abuse in church settings, establishing a board composed mainly of lay people to assess allegations of abuse against priests. The Attorney General’s report calls the Chicago Archdiocese “a leader in the new era of handling abuse allegations,” with a policy of removing credibly accused priests from ministry rather than shuffling them into new posts. But the report also documents how the archdiocese sometimes failed to act on its own recommendations.
Ahead of the release of the attorney general’s report, the state’s six Catholic dioceses released a statement last week about their approach to allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said in the statement that the church in Illinois “has been at the forefront of addressing sexual abuse of minors for many years.”
“This report tells us clearly that no one knew more about abuse and no one did less about it than these dioceses themselves,” said Mike McDonnell, a spokesman for SNAP, an advocacy group for victims of clergy sexual abuse.
What’s next: Charges seem unlikely in many of the cases described.
Most of the abuse documented in the report happened decades ago. The report acknowledges that criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits will be impossible for many victims due to statutes of limitations and the death of perpetrators. Rather, the study’s goal was to offer an account of past abuse and “give voice to survivors.”
Some states, including California and New York, have enacted a “lookback window” that allows victims of child sexual abuse to bring civil claims that would otherwise be barred by statutes of limitations, but Illinois is not among them.