In the late summer of 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury found that more than 300 Catholic clerics (ordained bishops, priests, and deacons) ministering in the Commonwealth sexually abused over 1,000 children during the prior 70 years. Soon after the grand jury released its report, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago penned a letter describing the “anger, shock, grief, and shame” he felt upon “learning about the devastating revelations of sexual abuse—and the failures of bishops to safeguard the children entrusted to their care—published in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.” Bishop Daniel R. Conlon, then of the Diocese of Joliet, termed the Pennsylvania numbers “staggering.” He found it “alarming to realize the extent to which some of my brother bishops and priests have failed to uphold their obligations to care for the people.” Along those same lines, Bishop Edward K. Braxton, then of the Diocese of Belleville, thought the Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings “deeply disturbing,” causing “anger, frustration, disappointment, and bewilderment in the minds and hearts of Catholic laity and clergy.” Consistent with the reactions of these Illinois Catholic leaders, shock waves were felt across the nation as a result of the Pennsylvania report. Attorneys General from multiple states, including Illinois, announced investigations into child sex abuse by Catholic clerics.
Even before taking office in January 2019, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul committed to continue the investigation started in late 2018 by his predecessor, former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Attorney General Raoul reiterated to the leaders of the Illinois Catholic Church the two primary goals of the investigation—(1) obtain a complete accounting of substantiated child sex abuse committed by Illinois Catholic clerics—meaning, the available evidence supports the conclusion that the cleric committed child sex abuse, and (2) provide voice to survivors in the hope they would find at least some measure of healing.
The Illinois Catholic Dioceses
Illinois is divided into six Catholic dioceses: the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield (“Illinois Dioceses”). The Attorney General’s investigation covered all six Illinois Dioceses.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois reports that the state’s 3.5 million Catholics make up approximately 27 percent of Illinois’ total population. The Catholic Conference notes that the church maintains 949 parishes and has 2,215 priests, 1,372 deacons, and 260 religious brothers, to serve the state’s Catholic community.
Overview of the Attorney General’s Investigation
Because decades often pass between the time when child sex abuse is committed and the time when it is reported, the window in which to bring a criminal prosecution or civil lawsuit has frequently closed by the time a survivor comes forward. In legal terms, when the statute of limitations has run, a survivor is left with little to no legal recourse. As a result, the public reckoning from investigations like this one may be the only form of justice afforded survivors. Bishop Conlon seemed to understand this when the Attorney General’s investigation was first announced: “People are looking for accountability. Sometimes it is hard to provide accountability for events that occurred years ago. The Illinois Attorney General’s recently announced inquiry into diocesan records…may help.”
Recognizing that “justice,” at least in terms of criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits, could be beyond reach for many survivors, the twin goals of the Attorney General’s investigation—an accounting of child sex abuse by Illinois clerics and providing voice to survivors—became paramount. From the outset of the investigation, the leaders of the Illinois Dioceses pledged full support and cooperation in assisting the Attorney General in achieving those goals. Each ultimately fulfilled their pledge, not only by providing access to records and representatives, but by working with the Attorney General in an effort to improve the Illinois Dioceses’ policies and procedures relating to allegations of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. Through it all, Attorney General investigators examined thousands of diocesan child sex abuse claim files and more than 100,000 pages of diocesan documents, along with conducting countless interviews and meetings with diocesan representatives and their attorneys.
Cooperation from the Illinois Dioceses aside, it was the survivors of child sex abuse who gave purpose and drive to the investigation. Without their courage and assistance, an exhaustive investigation would not have been possible. Absent a willingness of survivors to bravely come forward and discuss with Attorney General investigators what happened to them at the hands of Catholic clerics, there would be no true investigative report. After the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was released, Cardinal Cupich noted that “the voice of the victim-survivor must be the Church’s true north as it works to address this global scandal.” As it came to be, the “voice of survivors” was likewise the investigation’s “true north,” enabling the Attorney General and his investigators to better understand both the “scandal” and the human suffering left in its wake.
At the outset of the investigation, the Attorney General’s office opened a Clergy Abuse Hotline in an effort to both assist survivors in confidentially sharing what happened to them and provide a vehicle for anyone to report allegations of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. Over the course of the investigation, Attorney General investigators had more than 600 confidential contacts with survivors of child sex abuse by Illinois Catholic clerics. These contacts included in-person interviews, video link interviews, telephone interviews, hotline messages, emails, and letters. For survivors who contacted the Attorney General, if their experience is discussed in this report, if their words are quoted, it is done with the survivor’s permission. Recounting survivors’ experiences only upon their specific authority was critical. After all, many survivors who contacted the Attorney General were choosing to share their experiences with child sex abuse by a Catholic cleric for the first time. Communications came from survivors who were abused decades ago, still battling the pain and suffering it caused. As one survivor put it, “for so long I did suffer in silence, and it was only when I contacted the Illinois Attorney General Clergy Abuse Hotline did I feel safe to share what happened to me. Because of you, I have been able to open up about the abuse and seek the professional help that I need. I no longer feel alone with the abuse, and with my loved ones and my friends and my therapist, I am on a good path now. I still have my struggles, but at least now I am not alone.”
“For so long I did suffer in silence, and it was only when I contacted the Illinois Attorney General Clergy Abuse Hotline did I feel safe to share what happened to me....”
Survivors were not only generous with their time during the investigation, but many expressed gratitude for the Attorney General’s investigation: “As time passes, I feel as though things will be forgotten. It’s great to know that your efforts will ensure that will never happen. All the best to you and your amazing team. My family and I are eternally grateful for your tenacity and commitment to this effort.” And “thank you for your continuous help, getting us…to the end of this process. It wouldn't have happened without the dedicated professionals at the Illinois Attorney General’s office.” Statements like these kept the investigation on track, with the Attorney General ever mindful that in addition to an accounting of child sex abuse by Illinois Catholic clerics, some measure of survivor healing was an ultimate goal of the investigation.
All of these efforts led to additional Illinois Catholic clerics being publicly disclosed as substantiated child sex abusers, survivor document demands to dioceses being honored, survivor meetings with diocesan representatives and bishops, survivors sharing their experiences before diocesan review boards, and improved practices and policies by the Illinois Dioceses relating to child sex abuse allegations and investigations.
“My family and I are eternally grateful for your tenacity and commitment to this effort.”
The Attorney General’s Investigation by the Numbers
At the time the Attorney General announced an investigation into child sex abuse by Catholic clerics, only two of the six Illinois Dioceses (the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet) posted a list of substantiated Catholic cleric child sex abusers on their websites. Between the two of them, they listed 103 substantiated child sex abusers—the Archdiocese of Chicago listed 68 abusers and the Diocese of Joliet listed 35 abusers. Within months of the investigation’s opening, and at the Attorney General’s urging, the four remaining dioceses all posted a list of substantiated child sex abusers who ministered within their diocese on their respective websites. The Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet also added more names to their lists. As a result, by December 2018, an additional 81 clerics substantiated as child sex abusers were listed on the Illinois Dioceses’ websites:
Archdiocese of Chicago – 10 additional abusers
Diocese of Joliet – 1 additional abuser
Diocese of Belleville – 17 abusers
Diocese of Peoria – 19 abusers
Diocese of Rockford – 15 abusers
Diocese of Springfield – 19 abusers
These additions increased the then total number of publicly named substantiated child sex abusers by the Illinois Dioceses to 184.
From January 2019, and through the rest of the investigation, the Attorney General pressed the Illinois Dioceses to add the names of more clerics and non-ordained religious brothers to their public lists of substantiated child sex abusers. This effort included information gathering and analyzing diocesan files, with investigators then advocating to diocesan representatives and attorneys that sufficient information existed to substantiate a child sex abuse claim, file-by-file, one cleric at a time. In other instances, investigators brought information to the dioceses’ attention relating to clerics who had been substantiated as child sex abusers by other Catholic entities; information the dioceses did not previously know. This too resulted in the public naming of additional substantiated child sex abusers. The Attorney General also successfully urged dioceses to change their policies relating to transparency and the disclosure of substantiated child sex abusers, leading to the disclosure of multiple clerics at a time.
Through this laborious process, over the course of many months, the Illinois Dioceses eventually disclosed 150 more clerics and religious brothers as substantiated child sex abusers on their respective websites:
Archdiocese of Chicago – 72 additional abusers
Diocese of Joliet – 16 additional abusers
Diocese of Belleville – 25 additional abusers
Diocese of Peoria – 24 additional abusers
Diocese of Rockford – 9 additional abusers
Diocese of Springfield – 4 additional abusers
As a result of these disclosures, by the time the Attorney General concluded the investigation, the Illinois Dioceses had publicly disclosed 334 clerics and religious brothers as substantiated child sex abusers across all dioceses. Because some of these clerics and religious brothers ministered in more than one diocese, the total number of discrete child sex abusers now disclosed by the Illinois Dioceses is 320. In total, the respective Illinois Dioceses disclosed:
Archdiocese of Chicago – 150 abusers
Diocese of Joliet – 52 abusers
Diocese of Belleville – 42 abusers
Diocese of Peoria – 43 abusers
Diocese of Rockford –24 abusers
Diocese of Springfield – 23 abusers
All told, the Attorney General’s investigation resulted in the Illinois Dioceses publicly listing an additional 231 substantiated Catholic cleric and religious brother child sex abusers across all dioceses.
In addition to the 334 clerics and religious brothers disclosed across the Illinois Dioceses, the Attorney General is publicly disclosing in this report 160 more clerics and religious brothers across five of the six Illinois Dioceses who both ministered in Illinois and have been substantiated by Catholic sources as child sex abusers, but whom have not been disclosed as such by the Illinois Dioceses. Because some of these clerics and religious brothers ministered in more than one diocese, the total number of additional discrete child sex abusers is 149. These additional disclosures bring the total number of publicly disclosed substantiated child sex abusers across the Illinois Dioceses to 494:
Archdiocese of Chicago – 275
Diocese of Joliet – 69
Diocese of Belleville – 43
Diocese of Peoria – 51
Diocese of Rockford – 24
Diocese of Springfield – 32
Because some of these clerics and religious brothers ministered in more than one Illinois diocese, the total number of discrete child sex abusers is 451.
The investigation also revealed claims by at least 1,997 survivors who were sexually abused by the 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who are now publicly disclosed in Illinois as substantiated child sex abusers, numbers far greater than those reported by the Pennsylvania grand jury.
Overview of the Attorney General’s Report
The Attorney General’s “Report on Catholic Clergy Child Sex Abuse in Illinois” is comprised of five principal sections. The first section analyzes the long term harms experienced by survivors of child sex abuse, discussing what researchers have recently come to understand, but what survivors have long known: the consequences of child sex abuse do not end when the abuse ends. The long term mental health, physical health, and economic effects of child sex abuse are all explored. Some survivors spoke to Attorney General investigators of failed careers, broken marriages, and strained relationships. Many shared that they suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, had attempted suicides, and served time in prison. Others said the abuse they suffered as children prevented them from “living up to their full potential.” Many detailed how they followed the movements of their abuser, as the cleric was transferred from parish to parish; some kept track of their abuser through the cleric’s retirement and death. Others expressed a sense of relief in knowing that what happened to them was going to be told: “I want to thank you and the staff of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General for their efforts in this extensive investigation and their persistence in finding the truth. The truth and the reality of the trauma that I, as well as the other victims and our families, have suffered with for so many decades is finally going to be shown for all to see.”
First Frost - Northern Illinois
The second principal section of the report discusses each of the six Illinois Dioceses separately, opening with general background information, followed by a discussion of how the diocese’s leadership historically handled child sex abuse allegations, detailing how inaction by Catholic archbishops and bishops confronted with child sex abuse by clerics often led to scores of sexually abused children. This section reveals how known child sex abusers were transferred by archbishops and bishops between parishes, how archbishops and bishops accepted the transfer of known abusers from other dioceses, and how such information was kept from the Catholic community and the public. In an effort to ensure survivor voices are included in the report, the separate diocese sections then set forth detailed narrative accounts of child sex abuse committed by Catholic clerics while ministering in the Illinois Dioceses. These accounts are based upon interviews with survivors, documents provided by survivors, documents found in the dioceses’ files, and documents the dioceses have released to the public. Many of those narratives are told from a survivor’s point of view, written in consultation with a survivor and based upon their experience. Where that is the case, the narrative is published with the survivor’s express permission; unless otherwise noted, pseudonyms are used to protect survivor identities.
The separate diocese sections conclude by disclosing specific information relating to each substantiated child sex abuser who ministered within the given diocese. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has pledged that “the first obligation of the Church with regard to [survivors of child sex abuse by clerics] is for healing and reconciliation.” In keeping with that mandate, leaders of the Catholic Church in Illinois acknowledge that publicly disclosing abusers is an important source of healing. Cardinal Cupich said disclosure “is considered best practice by the Archdiocese [and] means a great deal to victims.” Bishop Braxton noted “many individuals who have been affected by childhood sexual abuse, have indicated that [disclosure is] helpful to their healing and recovery.” Similarly, Zach Hiner, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), confirmed “we’re always supportive of dioceses releasing these names. It will often let survivors who might be suffering in silence know that they are not alone.”
Consistent with these understood benefits of disclosure and transparency, information in the report relating to each substantiated cleric and religious brother includes:
The name of the substantiated cleric or religious brother and the year he was ordained. In instances where no ordination year is noted, the ordination year is either designated as “unknown” or the individual is a non-ordained religious brother who took vows in a religious order.
The diocese or religious order into which the cleric or religious brother was ordained or took vows.
The parishes and related church locations where the cleric or religious brother was assigned while ministering in Illinois, as reported by a diocese or religious order.
The number of survivors who made claims of child sex abuse against the cleric or religious brother, as reported by the diocese or religious order and/or as revealed in criminal conviction records.
Date/Location of Reported Abuse
The date and location of claimed instances of child sex abuse committed by the cleric or religious brother, as reported by a diocese or religious order and/or as revealed in criminal conviction records.
Diocese Claim of First Report
The date the diocese reports having first received a child sex abuse claim, or claim of inappropriate behavior with a child, regarding the cleric or religious brother.
Placed on Catholic Church Public Lists
The date the identified diocese or religious order placed a cleric or religious brother on its public list of substantiated child sex abusers.
Significant actions relating to the cleric or religious brother and his current status.
“The truth and the reality of the trauma that I, as well as the other victims and our families, have suffered with for so many decades is finally going to be shown for all to see.”
The third principal section of the report concerns the Illinois Dioceses’ policies and practices relating to allegations of child sex abuse against Catholic clerics. In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“USCCB”) met in Dallas, Texas, and established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (“Dallas Charter”). Revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018, the Dallas Charter, along with the accompanying Essential Norms approved by the Vatican, set forth policies for each United States diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clerics.
Survivor well-being is at the heart of the charter. The Preamble recognizes “[t]he sexual abuse of children and young people by some deacons, priests, and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion for victims, their families and the entire Church.” The Dallas Charter requires dioceses to approach survivors with a “sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being,” stressing, “[t]he first obligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation.”
The USCCB intended the Dallas Charter to be a “comprehensive set of procedures,” but its language only broadly outlines what each diocese shall do when responding to allegations of child sex abuse, without specific guidance as to how the dioceses should implement those procedures. Among its broad mandates, the charter requires dioceses to:
- Adopt procedures to promptly respond to an allegation “where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.” Designate a person or persons to “coordinate assistance” to an individual who reports that a member of the clergy sexually abused them as a child.
- Establish a review board as a “confidential consultative body” to advise the bishop in assessing allegations of child sex abuse and determining a cleric’s suitability for ministry.
- Report each allegation of child sex abuse to public authorities and cooperate in investigations.
- Remove a cleric from ministry when child sex abuse, “whenever it occurred,” is “admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law.”
- Communicate with the public about child sex abuse by the clergy in an “open and transparent” manner.
Because detailed guidance on how to implement the Dallas Charter’s broad principles is lacking, each individual diocese in the United States has wide latitude in setting its own procedures to respond to child sex abuse allegations against clerics. As a result, each of the six Illinois Dioceses adopted different sets of policies and procedures, often written in such a detailed and complex manner that they are confusing to navigate. In an effort to bring some understanding, the policy section of the report includes an overview of common facets among the Illinois Dioceses’ polices, but cautions that individual policies should be consulted when an allegation is raised in a specific diocese. The policy section closes with a discussion of certain concerns the Attorney General raised with the dioceses about their policies, revealing how the dioceses often modified their policies to address those concerns.
The fourth principal section of the report is a data analysis undertaken by the Attorney General’s office with a recognized data expert. The overall data concerning the extent of child sex abuse by clerics and religious brothers in the Illinois dioceses is presented in the report’s dioceses section. In the data analysis section, an examination of that data reveals the number of substantiated child sex abusers ministering in, or otherwise associated with, each of the Illinois Dioceses in any given year, from 1950 through 2019. The analysis shows, for a person who had contact with a priest or religious brother, the statistical likelihood that the encounter would have been with a substantiated child sex abuser. It also takes into account how long abusers were priests or brothers, compared to the total number of priests and brothers in the diocese in the given period, revealing the level of exposure to these abusers. The data analysis section closes with a discussion of purportedly similar studies previously undertaken by the Catholic Church, revealing problems with both the studies and the data they relied upon.
Dixon Waterfowl Refuge - Hennepin, Illinois
The fifth, and final, principal section of the report contains the Attorney General’s recommendations to the Illinois Dioceses regarding their going-forward handling of child sex abuse allegations against Catholic clerics and religious bothers. The recommendations are organized into five categories—(1) Survivor Care and Communications, (2) Investigations and Determinations, (3) Disclosure and Transparency, (4) Mediation and Compensation, and (5) Religious Orders.
Soon after the Illinois Attorney General announced an investigation into child sex abuse by Illinois Catholic clerics, Cardinal Cupich told the Washington Post that if state investigations reveal that “we need to do something different, we will. We shouldn’t be afraid of admitting mistakes and fixing things.” Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of the Diocese of Springfield, confirmed that the church is “willing to consider any additional actions that would be helpful in making our safe environment program more effective” and that he would “welcome further discussions and suggestions from the Illinois Attorney General’s office regarding any concrete steps to strengthen [safe environment] measures.” It is the Attorney General’s hope that Cardinal Cupich, Bishop Paprocki, and the other leaders of the Illinois Dioceses consider the offered recommendations with open minds.
Finally, a note about terminology. A common question for those undertaking an investigation such as this is how to refer to those who have suffered child sex abuse—“victim” or “survivor.” The term victim is typically used for someone who recently experienced a sexual assault, and is commonly used within the criminal justice system. The term survivor, on the other hand, is often used to connote a sense of empowerment for someone who has at least started down the path of healing. But neither term is appropriate for all; some victims simply do not yet see themselves as survivors, no matter how much time has passed since the abuse. A man who suffered child sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic cleric told Attorney General investigators that “many victims will become survivors when this report is published.” The Attorney General’s report is released with the fervent hope that the sentiment comes to pass, which is why the term “survivor” is used throughout.