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IL AG: Illinois Dioceses Massively And Abhorrently Failed Underage Sexual Assault Victims

Excerpts from December's "Preliminary Findings of the Investigation into Catholic Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors in Illinois" from the Office of the Attorney General.

The following preliminary findings are based upon information the Office has obtained through meetings and interviews and its review of thousands of pages of documents, including information and documents provided by the Illinois Dioceses, files related to clergy sexual abuse maintained by the Illinois Dioceses, communications with survivors of clergy sexual abuse, discussions with experts on clergy sexual abuse, and discussions with law enforcement officials.

Scope of the Problem: Clergy sexual abuse of minors in Illinois is significantly more extensive than the Illinois Dioceses previously reported.

In the four months since the Office opened this investigation, the Illinois Dioceses have acknowledged that they are aware of an additional 45 previously undisclosed clergy who they deemed to be "credibly" accused of sexually abusing minors.

These additional disclosures are a direct result of the Office's investigation. With few exceptions, the dioceses have provided no adequate justification for failing to disclose these names before the Office's investigation.

* Based upon the Office's review of the Illinois Dioceses' files, the Illinois Dioceses have, in total, received allegations related to sexual abuse for approximately 690 clergy.

* The Illinois Dioceses have publicly identified only 185 clergy as having been "credibly" accused of sexual abuse. As a result, the Illinois Dioceses have received allegations of sexual abuse for more than 500 clergy that the Illinois Dioceses have not shared with the public.

Disregarding Survivors' Allegations: The Illinois Dioceses often disregarded survivors' allegations by either not investigating the allegations, or finding reasons not to substantiate the allegations.

* Of the allegations against clergy that the Illinois Dioceses have received, the Illinois Dioceses have deemed 26 percent as "credible" allegations, meaning 74 percent of the allegations were either not investigated, or were investigated but not substantiated by the Illinois Dioceses.

Each diocese has its own process for determining whether an allegation is "credible" or "substantiated." The Office is using the terms "credible" and "substantiated" to describe allegations because these are terms the Illinois Dioceses have used. While each diocese has a different process, the Illinois Dioceses all require that an allegation be deemed "credible" or "substantiated" before publishing the name of an accused clergy.

* The Office found dozens of examples where the Illinois Dioceses failed to adequately investigate an allegation of clergy sexual abuse it received from a survivor.

* Among the most common reasons for a diocese to decide not to investigate was the fact that a clergy was either deceased or had resigned from ministry when the allegation was first reported to the diocese. Dioceses failed to investigate allegations for deceased or resigned clergy even when they received allegations from multiple survivors. Failing to investigate deceased or resigned clergy ignores both the impact such a decision has on survivors seeking closure and that an investigation might lead other survivors to come forward. Failing to investigate also makes it impossible to determine whether other clergy, including those who are alive and involved with the church, helped conceal the abuse.

* The Illinois Dioceses also failed to investigate clergy who were order priests.15 Allegations related to order priests were simply referred to the order from which the priest came, even though the priest was ministering with the authority of the bishop and within the geography of the diocese. Once a referral was made, little to no follow up from the dioceses was commonplace, leaving survivors without answers or resolutions.

* a lawsuit was filed; the survivor wanted to remain anonymous; a criminal investigation was opened; and the clergy left the country. In many of these cases, information and evidence related to the alleged abuse was readily available and easily confirmed.

* When the Illinois Dioceses investigated an allegation, they frequently found reasons not to deem an allegation "credible" or "substantiated." In the Office's review of clergy files, a pattern emerged where the dioceses frequently failed to "substantiate" an allegation when it came from only one survivor, even when the dioceses had reason to believe that survivor and reason to investigate further. The dioceses also often found reasons to discredit survivors' stories of abuse by focusing on the survivors' personal lives.

* Based upon its review, the Office believes that additional allegations should be deemed "credible" or "substantiated" by the Illinois Dioceses.

* A diocesan priest is a clergy member ordained and assigned to a certain geographical region (i.e., diocese). Diocesan priests are assigned to their posts within a diocese by the Bishop, and their assignments include work at parishes within the geographical diocese. A religious order priest is a clergy member who belongs to a religious order, whose assignment is given by the Superior (akin to an executive officer) of the religious order. Religious order priests may be assigned by their Superior to serve within a diocese, but only the Bishop of that diocese may grant the order priest permission to perform various sacramental functions within the geographic region of the diocese.

Insufficient Transparency: Increased transparency is necessary to serve the Illinois Dioceses' stated goal of holding clergy accountable and promoting healing for survivors.

* Despite the Charter's call for openness and transparency, a majority of the Illinois Dioceses do not have a written policy for publishing the name of a clergy member who committed a substantiated act of sexually abusing a minor.

* Prior to the Office's investigation, only the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Diocese of Joliet had compiled and published a list of clergy who had been "credibly" accused of sexual abuse of minors. The Dioceses of Belleville, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield did not take the basic step of publishing a comprehensive list of clergy who had been "credibly" accused until the Office became involved. Even now, these lists, for the most part, remain difficult to locate on the Illinois Dioceses' websites.

* It took the Office's involvement for the Illinois Dioceses to disclose an additional forty- five clergy as having been "credibly" accused of sexually abusing minors. Remarkably, the Illinois Dioceses had been aware of nearly all of these allegations for years, in some cases decades, and the dioceses had substantiated the allegations long ago.

* Based upon its review of the Illinois Dioceses' files, the Office believes that there are more clergy in Illinois who should be listed publicly by the Illinois Dioceses as having been "credibly" accused of sexually abusing minors.

Flawed Processes and Practices: The Illinois Dioceses' response to clergy sexual abuse is not uniform across Illinois and is often inadequate.

* During its initial review of clergy sexual abuse files maintained by the Illinois Dioceses, the Office was unable to discern if any diocese in Illinois has made an effort to shine light on attempts by Church leadership to cover up and conceal allegations of clergy sexual abuse against minors. On this issue, the Catholic Church itself has yet to undertake polices to ensure accountability of its bishops for their part in covering up clergy sex abuse against minors.

* The Office found multiple examples where the Illinois Dioceses failed to notify law enforcement or DCFS of allegations they received related to clergy sexual abuse of minors.

* Each diocese uses different terms and explanations, or none at all, to indicate the evidence required for the diocese to determine whether an accused clergy did or did not commit sexual abuse against a minor. As a result, different dioceses apply different "burdens of proof." Differing burdens of proof found in the various policies include: "reasonable cause to suspect," "sufficient evidence," "sufficient possibility that an incident occurred," and "more probably true than not."

* The dioceses use different terms to define the conclusions they draw at the end of an investigation. For example, some use the term "substantiated," others use the term "credible," and others use both. Such different terminology makes it confusing for the general public to understand what conclusions to draw, further frustrating the goals of transparency and accountability.

* While the Illinois Dioceses have touted their "independent audits" as evidence that they are adequately responding to clergy sexual abuse allegations, the audits are seemingly not designed to discover clergy abuse, but rather are perfunctory, "check the box" exercises done in a routine manner by the same entity nationwide, using a process that does not appear to involve a systematic review of the contents of files or the decisions a diocese made.

Failing Survivors: The Illinois Dioceses' investigatory processes often do not realize the Charter's goal to prioritize survivor healing, particularly when conflicts of interest are present with respect to the Dioceses' own interests and liabilities.

* The Office found examples where dioceses refused to confirm for a survivor that they were not the only individual who had been abused by a specific clergy member, even though the diocese was already aware of allegations from other survivors.

* The Office found examples where a diocese received allegations from a survivor and took steps to obtain the survivor's story, only to inform the survivor later that there was nothing the diocese could do because the clergy accused of sexually abusing a minor was an order priest.

* The Office found examples where a diocese sought to discredit a survivor's allegations based upon the survivor's personal life.

* An inherent tension exists between a diocese offering support for the survivor and the diocese's fact-finding process related to confirming allegations of sexual abuse. Given the important roles clergy have within dioceses, the potential financial impact of deeming an allegation "credible", and the negative publicity related to a clergy member being "credibly" accused of sexually abusing a minor, there is undoubtedly a conflict between the Catholic Church's interests and the survivor's interests. Unfortunately, that conflict often prevented the dioceses from meeting their commitment to survivor healing and reconciliation.

* By and large, the Illinois Dioceses' investigative processes remain a mystery to survivors who report allegations of clergy sexual abuse against minors. The Office found examples where survivors were not provided updates on the status of the investigation or informed when the diocese did determine that allegations against the accused had been substantiated.

Conclusion: The Office's investigation is ongoing, and the information included in this update is preliminary. However, the Office has reviewed enough information to conclude that the Illinois Dioceses will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own. It appears that the Illinois Dioceses have lost sight of both the key tenet of the Charter and the most obvious human need as a result of these abhorrent acts of abuse: the healing and reconciliation of survivors. Long after legal remedies have expired, the Catholic Church has the ability and moral responsibility to survivors to offer support and services, and to take swift action to remove abusive clergy. The actions taken by the Catholic Church should always be survivor-focused and with the goal of holding abusers accountable in a transparent manner.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on January 11, 2019


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