About 1,997 minors were sexually abused by Catholic priests in Illinois over 69 years, a shocking investigation by the state’s Attorney General has found.
As many as 451 of the church’s clergy members and lay religious brothers in six dioceses abused 1,997 children in Illinois between 1950 and 2019, Attorney General Kwame Raoul said on Tuesday May 23, as he unveiled the report.
The 696-page document accuses Illinois church leaders of being severely slow to acknowledge the extent of the abuse, and of frequently dragging their feet to confront accused clergy.
The report claims the church failed to warn parishioners about possible abusers in their midst, sometimes even decades after allegations emerged about a clergy member.
Raoul noted that the statute of limitations has expired in many cases and those abusers ‘will never see justice in a legal sense.’
‘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,’ Raoul said.
For years, the state has been coming to terms with its dark history of child abuse in the Catholic church, with many survivors coming forward recently.
One of them was Vicki Schmidt who says she grew up being abused by Rev. Peter Mascari at St. John Vianney Parish in Sherman as a child.
The probe was initiated in 2018 by the state’s previous attorney general, Lisa Madigan, who claimed the church had not been transparent about the number of accused clergy members.
Weeks after the probe was opened, a group of survivors came together to demand the church make public all the names of priests or clergy members accused of sexual abuse.
The church had previously identified 103 individuals accused of abuse. Raoul’s final report uncovered 149 additional names, which were provided by victims who came forward with their accounts.
The newly identified abusers are all religious brothers, and are accountable to independent religious orders and not to the local diocese or bishop.
The report cites accusers who contemplated suicide after being abused, and who turned to drugs or alcohol in a bid to cope with ‘anxiety and feelings of unworthiness.’
One survivor, referred to only as ‘David’ in the report, said a priest’s sexual abuse of him as a child directly affected his career, financial wellbeing and ability to hold jobs. He told investigators he has ‘left, quit, or was fired from every job he’s ever had.’
Another described being singled out by priest Thomas Francis Kelly, who assaulted more than 15 boys aged 11 to 17 in various perishes during the 1960s and 1970s.
The survivor said he was an 11-year-old altar boy when Kelly invited him to drive-in movies and a sleepover at the rectory. After being offered beer by Kelly, the boy woke up to find the priest performing oral sex on him, according to the report.
Despite his abuse being well known in the community, Kelly was never prosecuted. Instead, he was moved from parish to parish and died in 1990.
Survivors also reported suffering from ‘insomnia, anxiety, trust issues, nightmares, suicidal ideation, guilt, addiction, alcoholism, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, issues creating and maintaining relationships, and sexual side effects.’
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the report ‘stunning’ in a statement released Tuesday that emphasized that the numbers of victims and abusers cited by state investigators are likely undercounted.
‘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 group said.
‘It is to us, in a word, disgusting that these supposed shepherds would lie so blatantly.’
SNAP also called on other attorneys general and prosecutors to initiate similar investigations of Catholic dioceses under their authority.
In a joint statement issued Friday ahead of Raoul´s announcement, the state’s Catholic dioceses provided summaries of their current process following an accusation of abuse and said the attorney general’s investigation prompted a review of their policies and unspecified changes.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on Monday called abuse ‘repugnant’ but said the church in 1992 began overhauling its policies and programs and cooperated fully with the state’s review.
‘My hope is that the release of this report will be an occasion for the attorney general to issue a rallying cry to all adults to join in the work of safeguarding children, lest this moment be a lost opportunity,’ Cupich said. ‘I stand ready to continue to do my part.’