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Illinois Attorney General Uncovers Massive Clergy Sex Abuse Coverup: NPR

The Illinois attorney general released a report detailing decades of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the state. She discovered that 451 priests and religious brothers had abused nearly 2,000 children.


A history of massive sexual abuse and a cover-up among clergy – that’s the conclusion of a report released today by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.


KWAME RAOUL: Decades of decisions and policies by Catholic leaders have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight.

SUMMERS: Joining us now with more is NPR religious correspondent Jason DeRose. And Jason, how well did the investigation find this clergy sex abuse?

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Well, Juana, the report includes the names and contact information for 451 Catholic priests and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children in Illinois. And that’s over a period of 70 years. The report said that the various Catholic dioceses in the state had only listed 103 proven abuses of priests on their websites. Now that’s a big difference – 451 versus 103.

Along with the numbers, the report also includes some truly heartbreaking details about the abuse. And it highlights what he calls a troubling pattern of the church failing to support survivors, ignoring or covering up reports of abuse, and the church re-victimizing survivors who have come forward. And it also contains many recommendations on how to deal with future allegations of child sexual abuse.

SUMMERS: And Jason, what about the church? How does the church react to this?

DEROSE: Well, first of all, let me explain that this survey covers all six dioceses or archdioceses in Illinois. And the largest, the Archdiocese of Chicago, released a lengthy statement today. He says he fears the data is being presented in a way that could be misleading. The archdiocese says these alleged abusers had already been disclosed, but the report lists even more.

Now, in direct response to a criticism of the church in this report that an outsider should have been involved in overseeing internal abuse investigations, the church says it already has an internal review board that includes non-clergy, but no one outside the church itself. And the archdiocese says cases of abuse have dropped significantly in recent decades due to new safeguards being put in place.

SUMMERS: This report from the State of Illinois is the latest statewide survey, but it’s not the first.

DEROSE: That’s true. These types of investigations were inspired by what happened in Pennsylvania in 2018. A lengthy grand jury report was then released detailing truly horrific criticism of 300 Catholic priests in that state. He discovered that over a thousand children had been abused by the clergy there. At the time, several attorneys general said they were opening their own investigations based on what they saw happening in Pennsylvania. And among them was Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

SUMMERS: I mean, Jason, it’s now been more than two decades since widespread abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston came to light. How come we still hear about these cases all these years later?

DEROSE: Well, I think the first answer is time. First, remember that the abuse became known through the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking investigation at the time. There were individual trials of priests, but prosecutors and law enforcement officials, such as attorneys general, later moved to a more systemic approach, such as these investigations. So they wanted to look more broadly at what was going on. And then the victims of abuse grow. They seek therapy. They’re looking for guidance, and they’re more likely to come forward then.

Now, I also think it’s worth noting that, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, many survivors of clergy sex abuse say they speak out now because they’re more likely to be believed. And as more come forward, it even encourages other victims to come forward and do the same.

SUMMERS: Jason DeRose from NPR, thank you.

DEROSE: You’re welcome.

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