More than 500 Catholic priests in Illinois were accused of sexual abuse, but allegations were effectively disregarded and their names never made public, according to a new report by the state's attorney general.
The investigation, preliminary findings of which were released Wednesday, was inspired by the Pennsylvania grand jury report made public earlier this year on abuse within that state's Catholic churches. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her investigation is still ongoing and in its early stages — but that it was already clear the Illinois priests were involved in "abhorrent acts of abuse," and that dioceses were failing survivors.
"The [attorney general's] Office has reviewed enough information to conclude that the Illinois Dioceses will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own," the report said.
Four of the state's six dioceses had responded by Wednesday evening, detailing their cooperation with the current investigation as well as how church policies and resources regarding sexual abuse have changed over the years.
"I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse," Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, said in a statement. "It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history."
Cupich also distanced the work of current clergy and lay employees from the abuse scandal.
"There can be no doubt about the constant need to strengthen our culture of healing, protection, and accountability," he said. "While the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago, many victim-survivors continue to live with this unimaginable pain.”
The church had previously named 140 clergy who had been "credibly" accused of sexual abuse in Illinois. After the attorney general's office began investigating, the church added 45 names to that list.
But based on church records, the attorney general's office found 690 clergy had been accused of abuse — more than four times the number of names originally publicized. According to the attorney general's report, the church was quick to disregard allegations or call them unsubstantiated.
"In the Office’s review of clergy files, a pattern emerged where the dioceses frequently failed to 'substantiate' an allegation when it came from only one survivor, even when the dioceses had reason to believe that survivor and reason to investigate further," the report said. "The dioceses also often found reasons to discredit survivors’ stories of abuse by focusing on the survivors’ personal lives."
For members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the findings tell a familiar story.
"Not only are the allegations made to church officials barely investigated, but when they are church officials actively look for reasons to dismiss those allegations," the group said in a statement.
SNAP is campaigning for authorities in every state to investigate alleged abuse and potential cover-ups by Catholic Church leaders.
"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."