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 into the Archdiocese of Baltimore that was released last month. The many investigations were inspired by a sweeping report in 2018 on six dioceses in Pennsylvania, which stunned Catholics across the country.
The Illinois report was initiated by Lisa Madigan, Mr. Raoul’s predecessor as attorney general, who identified early in her investigation 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 above 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 clerical sex abuse crisis have rippled through the Catholic Church in the United States for decades, and burst into public view 20 years ago when the The Boston Globe documented a sprawling cover-up of abuse in church settings.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois 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 made up mainly of lay people to evaluate accusations of abuse against clergy members. The attorney general’s report calls the Chicago archdiocese “a leader in the new era of handling abuse claims,” with a policy of removing credibly accused clergy members from ministry rather than shuffling them to new posts. But the report also documents how the archdiocese sometimes failed to act on its own recommendations.
In advance of the release of the attorney general’s report, the state’s six Catholic dioceses released a statement last week on 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 dealing with sexual abuse of minors for many years.”
“This report clearly tells us 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 clerical sexual abuse.
What’s Next: Prosecutions appear unlikely in many of the cases described.
Most of the abuse documented in the report happened decades ago. The report acknowledges that criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits will be impossible for many victims, because of statutes of limitations and the deaths of perpetrators. The investigation’s goals, rather, were offering an account of past abuse and “providing voice to survivors.”
Some states, including California and New York, have enacted a “look-back window” allowing victims of child sex abuse to bring civil claims that would otherwise be barred by statutes of limitations, but Illinois is not among them.