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Nearly 2,000 children were sexually abused by Catholic clergy in Illinois, the state’s attorney general says

The findings released Tuesday by Attorney General Kwame Raoul come from a sweeping state investigation that began in 2018

A Roman Catholic church in Lisbon
A Roman Catholic Church in Lisbon is pictured on February 10, 2023.Armando Franca (AP)

Illinois’ attorney general released the results of a sweeping investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy on Tuesday, saying investigators found that 451 clergy sexually abused nearly 2,000 children since 1950 — far more than the 103 individuals the church had named when the state review began in 2018.

At a news conference announcing his office’s findings, Attorney General Kwame Raoul credited accusers for making the review possible. He said state investigators found that 1,997 children across the state were abused by clergy between 1950 and 2019.

“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said. “These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law, but by naming them here, the intention is to provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”

According to a preliminary investigation conducted by Raoul’s predecessor, the state’s dioceses deemed only 26% of the allegations they received to be “credible,” while either not investigating or deeming remaining 74% to be unsubstantiated.

In a statement released Tuesday, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called the report “stunning” but emphasized that the numbers of victims and abusers cited by state investigators are likely undercounted.

“There is no questioning the facts of the report — until 2018 when the investigation began, hierarchs in every Illinois diocese kept known abusers under wraps, declined to include them on their accused lists, and refused to acknowledge the truth that survivors of abuse who came forward to make a report shared with them,” the statement said. It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly.”

The preliminary report conducted under Raoul’s predecessor, Lisa Madigan, found that the church’s six dioceses had done a woefully inadequate job of investigating allegations, and in some cases didn’t investigate them at all or notify the state’s child welfare agency. The abuse claims dated back decades and were made against some priests who had since died, but the preliminary report didn’t include certain key details such as when allegations were made.

The Madigan report didn’t accuse the dioceses of withholding the names of clergy who the church deemed had been “credibly” accused or against whom abuse claims had been “substantiated” — the church’s own investigation standards. However, it did point out that the overall list of accused clergy was far longer than the church had made public.

Madigan’s office said the problems went beyond a lack of effort by the church, and that in some cases, the church sought to work against the accusers.

Illinois church leaders expressed regret at the time about the abuse, but they pointed to steps they had taken to address what has become an international crisis for the church.

Madigan said in 2018 that notifying authorities is critical and pointed to instances in which dioceses used personal information about people to discredit them and their accusations.

“The preliminary stages of this investigation have already demonstrated that the Catholic Church cannot police itself,” she said.

Similar government-led investigations detailing reports of clergy sexual abuse and church leaders’ failure to hold perpetrators accountable have rocked archdioceses in other states, including Pennsylvania and Maryland.

In its statement Tuesday, SNAP also called on other attorneys general and prosecutors to initiate similar investigations of Catholic dioceses under their authority.

“For many survivors, secular investigations like this will open an area for new conversations, healing among fellow victims, and assisting communities to comprehend the horrors of their past and the risk of their present,” the group said. “When the legal system fails to provide victims with justice, statewide investigations can assist citizens and survivors in communicating essential facts about the global scourge of child sexual abuse.”

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