About 700 clergymen in Illinois have been accused of child sexual assault, a far greater number than the Catholic Church had previously disclosed, the Midwestern US state’s top prosecutor revealed Wednesday.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said the Church’s revelations that 185 clergy members were credibly accused of sexual abuse fell short of the number her office has uncovered.
The preliminary results of an investigation that began in August found more than 500 additional priests and clergy members with sexual abuse allegations in the Midwestern state’s six dioceses — a total of at least 685 accused.
In a scathing statement, the attorney general’s office criticized the Church’s handling of the abuse allegations, saying investigations were lacking, and in many cases, law enforcement and child welfare authorities were not notified.
“The preliminary stages of this investigation have already demonstrated that the Catholic Church cannot police itself,” Madigan said.
She added that the Church had failed to provide “a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois.”
The Illinois investigation was prompted by a sweeping grand jury report in August that revealed credible allegations against more than 300 suspected predator priests and identified over 1,000 victims of child sex abuse covered up for decades by the Catholic Church in the state of Pennsylvania.
In October, federal authorities for the first time opened an investigation into clergy abuse. Dioceses in the state reported receiving federal grand jury subpoenas to produce documents.
– Shocking and expected –
The Archdiocese of Chicago, the largest of the Illinois dioceses, countered Madigan’s report by insisting that all abuse claims are investigated and reported to authorities.
“Since 2006, we have published the names of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of abuse, and in 2014 we released more than 20,000 documents from these priests’ files,” the archiocese said in a statement.
But Madigan’s office said allegations of abuse have often not been adequately investigated if they are scrutinized at all. Among the reasons for the lack of action were that the accused was deceased or had already resigned.
READ ALSO: Church Will ‘Never Again’ Ignore Abuse Accusations – Pope
“This report is both shocking and exactly what we expected,” Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), told AFP.
“We’ve known for a long time that church officials have been ignoring and minimizing allegations of abuse and this report is just yet another proof point that it is a systemic issue, not a highly localized one.”
– Mounting pressure –
Since the state investigation opened, the dioceses have added another 45 clergy members to their official lists of those credibly accused of committing child sexual abuse, according to Madigan’s office.
The attorney general anticipated additional names will be disclosed as her investigation continues.
“Allegations of sexual abuse of minors, even if they stem from conduct that occurred many years ago, cannot be treated as internal personnel matters,” Madigan said.
The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of coverups. And public pressure has been mounting on its institutions.
This month, authorities of the Jesuit order overseeing at least 40 US states released the names of more than 240 members who have been credibly accused of abuse — including dozens of priests with multiple allegations.
Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, with some 16,000 members worldwide who do not fall directly under the Church’s hierarchy.
They operate 30 colleges and 81 schools in the United States and Canada.
Jesuits release list of 89 US priests accused of sex abuse
Jesuit authorities for 20 US states on Monday released the names of 89 priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1950.
The disclosures by the Jesuit provinces of Maryland and USA Midwest are the latest chapter in the ongoing sexual abuse scandal roiling the Catholic Church and come after 153 Jesuits were publicly identified by two other provinces earlier this month.
Maryland released 24 names with allegations dating back to 1950 and USA Midwest released 65 names dating back to 1955. Many of the individuals are deceased, and some were previously publicly known to be accused of sexual assault.
“On behalf of the Midwest Jesuits, I apologize to victim-survivors and their families for the harm and suffering you have endured. Many of you have suffered in silence for decades,” Brian Paulson, head of the USA Midwest province, said in an open letter.
Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, with some 16,000 members worldwide. They operate 30 colleges and 81 schools in the United States and Canada.
The names made public Monday included dozens of priests with multiple allegations of abuse who served in educational institutions.
– Decades of abuse, errors dating to 1930s –
The priest with the most recent allegations was Donald McGuire, who died in federal prison in 2017 while serving a 25-year sentence. His was among the names that had been previously publicized.
Numerous men have accused McGuire of molesting them when they were boys. The first allegations dated to the 1950s, when he worked at a Jesuit private high school in Chicago, and went as late as 2005.
“Most of the Jesuits on our list entered religious life from the 1930’s through the early 1960’s. In retrospect, our evaluation of candidates, as well as the training, formation, and supervision of Jesuits, was not adequate,” Paulson said.
He added that the organization had learned from its mistakes, and has improved training for Jesuits and was holding them accountable if abuse allegations are made.
The latest revelations came as religious orders are starting to face similar scrutiny to the rest of the Catholic Church and are embarking on efforts at transparency.
– Lists ‘incomplete’ –
Earlier this month, provinces overseeing Jesuits in more than 20 western, southern and central US states released lists of 153 members accused of child sexual abuse.
The Maryland province’s leader, who is known as the provincial, said Monday’s release was meant to provide transparency and accountability, and that an external audit of the organization’s files would be conducted “to ensure that our previous reviews were both accurate and complete.”
“We are deeply sorry for the harm we have caused to victims and their families,” the provincial, Robert Hussey, said in an open letter published on the organization’s website.
“We view the disclosure today of our shameful history as part of our commitment now to preventing abuse.”
A victim’s advocacy group welcomed the disclosures but noted that they came only after sustained public pressure, including from prosecutors.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) criticized the Jesuit order for keeping accused priests’ names secret for decades and called for an independent investigation by law enforcement.
“Too often, lists are released that are incomplete or carefully curated by church officials, and so by inviting an independent investigation, Jesuit officials can demonstrate to parishioners and the public their commitment to transparency and healing,” SNAP said in a statement.
“Such an investigation would be the only way to determine who knew what, when they knew it, and what they chose to do with that information.”
The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, with widespread allegations of cover-ups.
In August, a devastating US report on child sex abuse claimed more than 300 “predator” priests abused more than 1,000 minors over seven decades in the state of Pennsylvania.