2,000 Children Sexually Abused by Illinois Catholic Clergy, Report Finds

2,000 Children Sexually Abused by Illinois Catholic Clergy, Report Finds
The cross atop of the Archdiocese of Chicago is seen on Jan. 2, 2019, in Chicago, Ill., following a press conference by advocates for clergy abuse victims. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)
Beth Brelje

The Illinois office of Attorney General has released a report on Catholic Clergy engaging in child sex abuse. Its investigation found nearly 2,000 children have been abused by clergy in the state.

“Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight. And 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,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul wrote in the introduction to the 696-page report.

They may never be held accountable in court, he said, but naming them is meant to “provide a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.”

It is not the first time such news has come to light.

Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan released a report in 2018 detailing abuse in the church. Raoul continued the investigation.

In April, the Maryland Attorney General’s office released an interim public report about child sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, listing the names of 146 clergy abusers dating back from the 1940s-2002. In this case, over 600 children are known to have been abused.

The Baltimore report says it uncovered “Pervasive and persistent abuse by priests and other archdiocese personnel. It is also a history of repeated dismissal or cover-up of that abuse by the Catholic Church hierarchy.”

A 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report found 300 Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children over the course of 70 years.

The Boston Archdiocese has a webpage listing more than 100 clergy members who sexually abused children.

Thousands of Documents

In Illinois, attorneys and investigators examined thousands of church files, reviewing more than 100,000 pages of documents. They interviewed diocesan leadership and representatives and received more than 600 confidential contacts from victims through email, letters, voicemail, and phone calls.

“Before this investigation, the Catholic dioceses of Illinois publicly listed only 103 substantiated child sex abusers. By comparison, this report reveals names and detailed information of 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children across all of the dioceses in Illinois,” the report said.

The report is broken into the six dioceses of Illinois: the Archdiocese of Chicago, dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield. Through the investigation and church disclosures, more clerics and religious brothers were identified as substantiated child sex abusers:

Archdiocese of Chicago – 275 Diocese of Joliet – 69 Diocese of Belleville – 43 Diocese of Peoria – 51 Diocese of Rockford – 24 Diocese of Springfield – 32

Abuse Affected Lives

Victims told investigators they suffered from drug and alcohol addiction, had attempted suicides, or served time in prison. They reported depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, anxiety, trust issues, and feelings of guilt.

Others said the abuse they suffered as children prevented them from living up to their full potential, the report said. Many followed the movements of their abuser, as the cleric was transferred from parish to parish to abuse again.

Some tracked their abuser through retirement and death.

Victims were glad their stories would be told.

“The truth and the reality of the trauma that I, as well as the other victims and our families, have suffered with for so many decades is finally going to be shown for all to see,” one victim is quoted in the report.

Evidence shows the Catholic Church covered up abuse for years, but in recent years, the church has become supportive of disclosing the names of abusers.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has pledged that “the first obligation of the Church with regard to [survivors of child sex abuse by clerics] is for healing and reconciliation.” In keeping with that mandate, leaders of the Catholic Church in Illinois acknowledge that publicly disclosing abusers is an important source of healing, the report said, adding that Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago said disclosure “is considered best practice by the Archdiocese [and] means a great deal to victims.”

Within each diocese report, readers will find the parishes and related churches where named the abusers were assigned in Illinois; date and location of reported abuse; the date the diocese reports first receiving a child sex abuse claim or claim of inappropriate behavior with a child; and steps the church took after disclosure.


Across the country, the church now publicly discloses the names of clergy who are substantiated child sex abusers, although it is under no legal obligation to make those disclosures, the report notes. And, many dioceses now fund certain emotional supports for survivors. But the attorney general recommends more from the Illinois dioceses in five areas: survivor care and communications; investigations and determinations; disclosure and transparency; mediation and compensation; and religious orders.
Some specific actions include:
  • Diocese policies should explicitly permit survivors to report abuse anonymously, using their own name, and/or through third parties.
  • Diocese policies should require that, upon inquiry, the existence and number of prior child sex abuse allegations against a cleric will be disclosed.
  • Dioceses should adopt a uniform definition for the term “child sex abuse,” and uniform terms and standards relating to child sex abuse investigation outcomes.
  • Dioceses should require minimum educational qualifications and professional experience for their victims' assistance coordinators.
  • Bishops should offer to meet privately with survivors, and dioceses should employ restorative justice practices to promote healing and rebuild trust with victims
  • Dioceses should update and supplement their public lists of substantiated child sex abusers
Beth Brelje is a national, investigative journalist covering politics, wrongdoing, and the stories of everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. Send her your story ideas: [email protected]