The Illinois Dioceses' Policies When Responding to Child Sex Abuse Allegations Against a Cleric
The Dallas Charter requires all United States dioceses to have “policies and procedures in place to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.” Each Illinois diocese has implemented policies and procedures in accordance with the Dallas Charter. While each takes its own approach, in general these policies require the dioceses to respond to a child sex abuse allegation in five distinct stages.
A Summary of the Illinois Dioceses’ Policies Relating to Child Sex Abuse
First, when a diocese receives an allegation of child sex abuse against a cleric, it sends the allegation to public authorities or law enforcement, and thereafter cooperates with any public authority/law enforcement investigation. There are many ways the diocese can learn about such an allegation. Most dioceses have established dedicated telephone hotlines and email addresses that survivors can use to make a report. In other cases, the diocese learns about child sex abuse allegations from third parties like law enforcement officials or the media.
At the second stage, the diocese offers pastoral care to the survivor. Pastoral care can include counseling, spiritual direction, and other social services designed to promote healing and assist in navigating the reporting process. Some of these services are provided by the diocese itself; in other cases, the diocese will refer a survivor to outside professionals for counseling and other support. Payment for such services varies from diocese to diocese and from case to case. When a diocese pays for support services, it may choose to do so for only a limited amount of time. Each Illinois diocese has designated a person to provide pastoral care to survivors, but only the Archdiocese of Chicago takes the appropriate and critical step of clearly separating responsibilities for providing support to survivors from the investigation into the alleged abuse.
At the third stage (typically occurring simultaneously with the second), the diocese implements emergency or interim measures, if necessary, to protect children while it investigates the survivor’s child sex abuse allegation. An accused cleric who is still engaged in active ministry may be temporarily removed, or limited in his ability to be alone with children. Parishioners are usually notified that the diocese has received, and is investigating, a child sex abuse allegation.
In the fourth stage, diocesan employees work with a diocesan review board to investigate the allegation and determine whether it can be substantiated. The review board is a consultative body appointed by the bishop that advises him in his assessment of child sex abuse allegations. The board comprises at least five persons, typically selected based upon a variety of relevant skills and experience, including expertise in psychology, social work, children’s rights, treatment of child sex abuse, law enforcement, law, personnel administration, and pastoral care. The majority of the review board is made up of laypersons who are not employed by the diocese. While this review and investigation can go forward in multiple and distinct stages, initially the survivor formally presents the child sex abuse allegation to the diocese. This usually consists of an interview with diocesan employees, who then present the information to the review board. If the review board determines the allegation warrants further investigation, diocesan employees or outside investigators will conduct interviews with potential witnesses or others who can corroborate the survivor’s experience, as well as gather supporting documents, like the cleric’s personnel file or parish records. These results are also presented to the review board which considers the evidence.
The fifth and final stage occurs after the investigation is complete, and the review board makes a recommendation to the bishop concerning whether the allegation is substantiated—meaning there is reason to suspect that the accused has engaged in child sex abuse. It may also recommend consequences for a credibly accused cleric, which may include that (1) the cleric should be removed from ministry; (2) the cleric should be laicized; or (3) the cleric should be required to live a life of prayer and penance. The bishop will then accept or reject the recommendations. All credibly accused clerics are permanently removed from ministry. The diocese will also publish the cleric’s name on its public list of credibly accused child sex abusers.
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Concerns Relating to the Illinois Dioceses’ Investigations of Child Sex Abuse Allegations
When the Attorney General began investigating child sex abuse by Catholic clerics, the Illinois Dioceses had been responding to such claims pursuant to Dallas Charter protocols for almost two decades. Even so, the Attorney General’s investigators identified concerns about the way the dioceses were applying those protocols in certain specific recurring circumstances. As a result of the shortcomings identified by Attorney General investigators, hundreds of survivors were denied justice because the church was not investigating—and therefore not able to substantiate—certain child sex abuse claims.
To their credit, the Illinois Dioceses worked closely with the Attorney General’s investigators in an effort to understand the Attorney General’s concerns—and, most importantly, their effect on survivors, both those who have come forward and those who, for whatever reason, have not. As a result, the dioceses revised certain policies to eliminate, or at least reduce, the negative effects of prior policies on survivors.
In addition to changing their own policies in response to the Attorney General’s concerns, the dioceses also recently agreed to implement some of the policy changes by approving uniform practices applicable to all the Illinois Dioceses in a document called “Summary of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Illinois Practices for Handling of Child Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Clerics” (“Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices”). Under the Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices, more investigations will be opened, more claims of child sex abuse will be substantiated, and more predator clerics will be exposed to the world. While the uniform practices improve upon several practices that were in place prior to the Attorney General’s investigation, certain concerns remain. The Attorney General’s concerns regarding specific investigation policies and practices, and how those concerns are addressed under the Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices, are discussed below, as well as in the recommendations section of this report.
Allegations Against Deceased, Resigned, and Laicized Clerics
The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that some of the Illinois Dioceses were reluctant to investigate allegations of child sex abuse made against deceased, resigned, and laicized diocesan clerics. From the dioceses’ perspective, the primary purpose of an investigation is to determine whether to remove an active cleric who currently has access to children from ministry. During the Attorney General’s investigation, the dioceses also expressed concerns that a deceased cleric is unable to participate in the investigation and therefore is unable to defend himself against the allegations. The dioceses expressed the view that there is no reason to investigate an allegation made against a cleric who has died, resigned, or been laicized. But this narrow understanding of an investigation’s purpose ignores the needs of survivors, many of whom told the Attorney General it was vitally important to their healing process for the church to take their claims seriously, investigate the circumstances, and ultimately publicly name the cleric responsible for their abuse if the claim is substantiated.
Although the death of an accused cleric (or an unwillingness to participate, in the case of a resigned or laicized cleric) may affect the investigation, and in some cases may mean there is insufficient information available to substantiate a claim, that an accused cleric is unavailable does not categorically preclude a robust investigation of other sources of information that could bring justice and healing to survivors. In sum, Attorney General investigators stressed to the dioceses that regardless of whether the accused cleric is willing or able to participate in the investigation (and particularly in those cases where the criminal and civil statute of limitations preclude law enforcement or civil actions), the church must nonetheless ensure it fully and fairly investigates allegations of child sex abuse to ensure the survivor is heard.
Over the course of the Attorney General’s investigation, three Illinois dioceses – the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville and Peoria – changed their policies to investigate allegations against deceased, resigned, and laicized diocesan clerics in the same manner as any other allegation. Previously, these three dioceses did not – either in practice or by the terms of their policies – investigate allegations against this group of clerics. The Dioceses of Joliet, Rockford, and Springfield all investigate allegations against deceased, resigned, and laicized diocesan clerics in the same manner as any other allegation.
Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices
The Illinois Dioceses recently came together with an improved uniform practice to investigate allegations against deceased, resigned, and laicized diocesan clerics. In doing so, they recognized the benefits to survivors when the church investigates and determines such claims. The Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practice provides:
Resigned, laicized, and deceased diocesan clergy
- Abuse allegations against a diocesan cleric who has died or has resigned from ministry or been laicized are handled as much as possible in the same manner as allegations against a cleric in active ministry. The same intake procedures are followed, the same offers of pastoral care are made to the person making the allegation and to the extent possible the same investigative steps are taken.
- As it does with clerics in active ministry the diocese reports all allegations against deceased, resigned and laicized diocesan clergy to civil authorities. If the cleric has not been previously determined to have engaged in the sexual abuse of a minor the results of the investigation will be presented to the diocese’s review board, which will determine, to the extent possible, whether there is reasonable cause to believe the allegation is true.
- If an allegation against a resigned, laicized or deceased cleric is substantiated the diocese will publicly announce such action on its website.
While the uniform practice continues the deficient model of not bringing the allegation to the review board for substantiation when the accused cleric is already on the diocese’s public list of substantiated abusers, the uniform practice nonetheless makes strides in the right direction by requiring the investigation of all child sex abuse claims against deceased, resigned, and laicized diocesan clerics.
Allegations Against Religious Order and Extern Clerics
Religious orders, like the Society of Jesus (known as Jesuit), are communities of consecrated life, meaning their members take solemn vows to live by the example of Jesus. Their members sometimes minister in diocesan parishes or schools within the diocese where they interact with the members of those communities in the same way as a cleric ordained in the diocese. An extern is a cleric with permission from the bishop to minister in a diocese, but who was ordained in a different diocese. For example, a cleric ordained in the Diocese of Springfield who is granted permission to minister by the Diocese of Joliet is an extern.
The distinction between religious order and extern clerics, on the one hand, and diocesan clerics, on the other, is not always obvious and can be particularly elusive for survivors of child sex abuse that occurred decades ago. Many parishioners perceive no meaningful distinction between a diocesan cleric and a religious order/extern cleric. Indeed, Illinois survivors of child sex abuse by a religious order member or extern cleric often report the abuse in the first instance to the diocese where the abuse occurred. Yet the Illinois Dioceses generally take the position that religious order or extern clerics can be supervised and disciplined only by their order or originating diocese, and not by the diocese within which they ministered. But not all religious orders are willing or able to marshal the resources necessary to conduct a full investigation of child sex abuse allegations. And when religious orders or originating dioceses do conduct their own investigations, the Illinois diocese in which the offending cleric was ministering may not always learn whether an allegation has been substantiated. Even when child sex abuse allegations are substantiated and/or the cleric is placed on the religious order or originating diocese’s public list of substantiated abusers, the Illinois diocese in which the substantiated abuser was ministering often did not add the abuser to its own public list. However, as a result of the Attorney General’s investigation, all six Illinois dioceses now place religious order and extern clerics on their public lists if the individual’s connection to the diocese meets certain criteria.
As with allegations against deceased, resigned, and laicized clerics, the church should ensure that every person who comes forward with an allegation of child sex abuse by a cleric—order cleric, extern cleric, or diocesan cleric—is afforded the same opportunity for healing that comes with having the church take their experiences seriously and investigate their allegations. Part of this effort must include a practice of adding a substantiated abuser to the diocese’s public list in the event he both ministered in the diocese and has been substantiated as an abuser by another diocese or religious order.
The Illinois Dioceses recently came together with an improved uniform practice for investigating allegations against religious order and extern clerics that requires they be publicly listed if a religious order or originating diocese substantiates a claim of child sex abuse and the cleric had a sufficient connection with the diocese. Specifically, the Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practice provides:
Religious order and extern clergy
- Members of religious orders and clergy who have been incardinated in a different diocese (“extern clergy”), may at times be assigned to minister within one of the Illinois dioceses.
- While such religious order and extern clergy remain at all times subject to the authority and supervision of the religious order or the originating diocese where they were incardinated the Illinois diocese in which they are ministering handles abuse allegations against such clergy as follows:
- If the accused religious order or extern cleric is ministering or has ministered within the diocese, receipt of the allegation will be reported to civil authorities, documented by the diocese and forwarded to the cleric’s religious order or originating diocese for investigation and determination.
- If, at the time an allegation of abuse is received, the accused cleric is assigned to a diocesan ministry, the diocese will immediately assess the potential risk to children. If such a risk exists, the diocese will withdraw the cleric from public ministry and remove his faculties for the safety of minors. If the cleric is ministering within the diocese but not pursuant to a diocesan assignment, the diocese will again immediately assess the potential risk to children. If such a risk exists the diocese will withdraw his faculties for ministry within the diocese. In either case the diocese will publicly announce the withdrawal of the cleric’s faculties.
- After the diocese has forwarded an allegation of abuse to the accused cleric’s religious order or originating diocese for investigation the diocese will follow up to determine the outcome of such investigation: namely, whether or not the religious order or originating diocese has substantiated the allegation, and the status of the cleric at the conclusion of the inquiry.
- The Illinois dioceses have adopted policies for posting the names of religious order clerics or extern clerics on their respective websites when (1) they are notified that an allegation has been substantiated by the religious order or originating diocese and (2) the cleric has a sufficient connection with the diocese, as provided for in that diocese’s polices.
The uniform practice continues the deficient model of not automatically naming a substantiated abuser on the Illinois diocese’s public list in the event the religious order or extern cleric ministered within the diocese and has been credibly accused of child sex abuse. The uniform practice does, however, improve upon the prior practice of simply turning a blind eye in the direction of a religious order or extern cleric who both ministered within an Illinois diocese and was accused of child sex abuse, and perhaps substantiated as an abuser. Additional Attorney General recommendations relating to the handling of child sex abuse allegations and religious orders are discussed in the recommendations section of this report.
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Allegations Under Investigation by Law Enforcement
The Attorney General’s investigation found that parallel investigations by law enforcement authorities can present challenges for dioceses confronted with an allegation of child sex abuse. Dioceses understandably wish to avoid interfering in an ongoing law enforcement investigation, and therefore they tend to defer their own investigation until after the law enforcement investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings are completed. In some cases, however, it appeared to Attorney General investigators that such allegations fell through the cracks when a diocese failed to pursue its own investigations. In other cases, it seemed the dioceses’ own investigations were improperly affected by prosecutors’ determinations not to pursue criminal charges or by the cleric’s acquittal under the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard applicable to criminal charges. Neither prosecutors’ decisions nor a cleric’s acquittal in a criminal case should impact a diocese’s investigation. Prosecutors may decline to pursue charges for reasons having nothing to do with the merits of the allegation. And a cleric is not necessarily “innocent” because a jury found the prosecution failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The church must ensure it fully and fairly investigates all allegations of child sex abuse, even those that do not result in a criminal conviction.
Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices
The Illinois dioceses recently came together with an improved uniform practice for investigating allegations that are the subject of a criminal investigation. The Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practice provides:
- If a diocese learns one of its clerics is the subject of a criminal investigation for child sexual abuse, the diocese will work with the local authorities to assess the risk posed to children. If such a risk exists, the cleric at issue will be withdrawn from public ministry pending completion of the investigation for the safety of minors. Further, the complainant (if known) will be offered the services of the victim assistance ministry, including pastoral care. The diocese will also publicly announce the cleric’s withdrawal from ministry.
- The diocese will cooperate fully with the criminal investigation and will defer its own investigation of the abuse allegations until the criminal investigation has concluded. This will ensure the diocesan investigation does not interfere with the criminal investigation and does not generate needless confusion.
- If a diocesan cleric pleads or is found guilty of criminal child sexual abuse, the cleric will be permanently removed from ministry for the safety of minors.
- If a diocesan cleric is acquitted of criminal child sexual abuse or the civil authorities advise they have ended their investigation and no criminal charges will be brought, the diocese will then initiate its own investigation. Such investigations will follow the same process and procedures as any other allegation of child sexual abuse. If the diocesan investigation concludes that the allegation is not substantiated, every effort will be made to restore the cleric’s reputation as he returns to ministry.
This uniform practice memorializes that a diocese will initiate its own investigation in certain circumstances; however, it does not explicitly prohibit the diocesan investigation from relying on the information, decisions, and findings of the criminal lawsuit. This failure improperly implies that the criminal lawsuit and diocesan investigation have the same burden of proof.
Allegations Subject to a Civil Lawsuit
Some survivors choose to present their child sex abuse allegations to the church by filing a civil lawsuit naming the diocese, its officials, and/or the accused cleric as defendants. In some instances, this is because the survivor does not wish to go through the diocese’s reporting and investigatory process; in other cases, it is because the survivor attempted to do so but found the diocese’s process or response inadequate. The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that there is a risk that allegations pursued through a civil lawsuit may be treated differently in material respects than those pursued through the diocese’s process. For example, ongoing civil litigation may deter a diocese from conducting a thorough investigation while the suit is pending, if the investigation is able to proceed at all. Further, it is possible a civil lawsuit against the church could be dismissed or result in a finding of nonliability for reasons having nothing to do with the merits of the claim (for example, the statutory time limitations regarding when a civil lawsuit may be filed). Neither of these outcomes should be used as excuses for the diocese to avoid doing everything feasible to determine whether the allegation is credible and taking appropriate steps if the accused cleric is still in public ministry.
Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practices
The Illinois Dioceses recently came together with a uniform practice regarding the investigations of allegations that are also the subject of a civil lawsuit. The Illinois Dioceses Uniform Practice provides:
- If a diocesan cleric is named as the alleged perpetrator of child sexual abuse in a civil lawsuit, the diocese immediately assesses the potential risk to children. If such a risk exists, the diocese withdraws the cleric from public ministry for the safety of minors, pending a determination of whether there is reasonable cause to believe the allegation is true. The diocese also publicly announces the cleric’s withdrawal from ministry.
- The diocese offers the complainant the services of the victim assistance ministry, including pastoral care.
- The diocese reports allegations of child sexual abuse made in a civil lawsuit to the civil authorities.
- The diocese investigates abuse allegations asserted in civil lawsuits in the same manner as other such allegations and considers information obtained in the litigation. The diocese may defer its investigative process until the litigation has concluded.
The uniform practice for civil lawsuits allows the diocese to accept and adopt information obtained in the civil lawsuit as part of its investigation which could result in a less-than-thorough investigation of the allegation by the diocese.
The above overview of policies and procedures outlines the general steps the Illinois Dioceses take when responding to an allegation of child sex abuse by a Catholic cleric, and specific improvements the dioceses have made in response to some of the recommendations the Attorney General made during the course of the investigation. Because each diocese has its own unique policies and procedures on a variety of issues, and because specific issues may arise that are not addressed above, survivors should contact the diocese where the abuse occurred with any questions about how an allegation is handled. A summary of each Illinois diocese’s policies and procedures regarding child sex abuse allegations and investigations can be found on their websites. Additional discussion of the Illinois Dioceses’ policies is contained in the recommendations section of this report.