The Illinois Attorney General’s office found the state’s six dioceses “covered up” for hundreds of clergy accused of sexually abusing children, according to a report on the multi-year investigation.
The diocese had previously publicly reported 103 credibly, but the AG’s investigation found evidence of 451 Catholic clergy who abused just shy of 2,000 children (1,997), according to the report. For many of the cases, the statute of limitations has expired, which means these cases cannot be tried in criminal court.
Furthermore, according to the investigation’s findings, numerous cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy members were either ignored or significantly downplayed by the church hierarchy. Victims reported a consistent pattern of being discouraged from reporting incidents to the authorities, instead being directed to internal processes that often failed to result in appropriate action being taken against the perpetrators.
Survivors of the abuse have expressed deep disappointment and anger at the church’s mishandling of their cases. Many have accused the church of prioritizing its reputation over the well-being of its members, and have called for a thorough investigation into the alleged cover-up. Additionally, survivors are seeking justice through the legal system, aiming to hold both individual perpetrators and the institution accountable for their actions.
“As an adult I’ve learned how it affects you and how it just breaks you down. It was in my first confessional and extremely painful,” said Eddie Burkel, a survivor of sexual abuse in the Joliet diocese.
Burkel was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Bolingbrook when he was abused by Father James Nowak, he told ABC 7 Chicago. He is one of 28 survivors abused by Nowak.
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago responded to the report with a statement denying the AG’s claims that known abusers were not reported.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago has long sought to heal them and prevent this crime from occurring again. I am personally committed to applying the highest level of vigilance to these efforts and to further strengthening our safeguards against abuse,” Cupich said in the statement.
Meanwhile, advocacy groups and legal experts are calling for the full cooperation of the Catholic Church in Illinois with law enforcement agencies and the creation of an independent body to investigate all cases of sexual abuse within the church.
Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan started the investigation in 2018 after officials in Pennsylvania found evidence of hundreds of additional abusers not previously reported.
“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. 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,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in a statement.