CHICAGO, Ill. (WTVO) — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said all six of the state’s Catholic diocese, including Rockford, covered up thousands of allegations of sexual abuse, according to a new report.
“Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight,” Raoul said at a Tuesday news conference.
“Because the statute of limitations has frequently expired, many survivors of child sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clerics will never see justice in a legal sense. 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,” he added.
On Friday, all six Catholic dioceses in Illinois issued a joint statement on their updated handling of allegations of sexual abuse, ahead of the release of Raoul’s findings, which include publishing the names of accused priests, and reporting claims to local authorities.
Raoul’s report found substantiated claims of sexual abuse against 451 priests, 348 higher than the 103 reported by the Illinois dioceses prior to the probe, which began in 2018.
Investigators with the attorney general’s office examined thousands of diocesan files, reviewing more than 100,000 pages of documents held by the dioceses and conducting interviews.
The report found 1,997 children were victims of sexual abuse by a Catholic cleric at dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield.
Each diocese underreported the number of abusers, according to Raoul, although the attorney general said there was cooperation during the investigation.
The report also said that on the whole, from 1950 to 2002, the Diocese of Rockford had the lowest percentage of priests who were sustained abusers throughout that period, below 4%.
The Attorney General’s report revealed that the Rockford Diocese publicly named 15 offenders, but its investigation revealed 9 additional abusers, bringing the total to 24.
The report showed that the Rockford Diocese began efforts to ferret out misconduct beginning in the mid-1980’s under Bishop O’Neill, and created an intervention team and, later, a 24-hour hotline for survivors.
According to the report the diocese conceded “its policies and procedures were born of an
understanding that ‘deviant behavior’ by priests could expose it to ‘potential financial injury’ that ‘could be catastrophic to the institutional Church.'”
The report found the “Diocese of Rockford, like dioceses across the nation, has made significant progress on…the church’s child sex abuse crisis” but where its “policies and procedures fall short is in addressing past abuse.”
“Unlike the other dioceses, the Diocese of Rockford has disclosed all substantiated clerics and religious brothers who ministered in the diocese,” the report adds.
In 2018, the diocese released a list of names of priests accused of sexual abuse. In 2020, it named six more.
The attorney general’s report said the Rockford Diocese “has made improvements in its processes as a result of the Attorney General’s investigation—and although it remains to be seen, these improvements should lead to better experiences for survivors who come forward today.”
The Rockford Diocese has posted a two-page summary of its full policy on reporting sexual abuse here.
In response to the Attorney General’s report, the Diocese released a statement, saying, “First and foremost, the Diocese of Rockford apologizes for the pain endured by victim survivors of childhood sexual abuse. No child should ever be harmed, and no adult should have to endure the memories of that harm. Our priority today remains the safety of all children and vulnerable individuals, and the repair of the past.”