Lisa Madigan: 500 more sex allegations against Illinois priests 'have not been adequately investigated'

Attorney General Lisa Madigan Wednesday accused the Catholic Church of dramatically underreporting the allegations of clergy sex abuse in Illinois, saying her investigators found at least 500 accusations against priests and clergy - compared to the 185 cases the church says it has found credible.

Madigan's office acknowledged that a charge that has been found credible is not the same thing as a simple accusation. However, she alleged in a statement that a probe her office opened into the church in August is finding that Catholic leaders are failing to dig deep into the guilt of their clerics. The probe "has revealed that allegations frequently have not been adequately investigated by the dioceses or not investigated at all," a statement from the office said.

"If they had an excuse not to investigate" a sex abuse claim internally, "they took it," Madigan said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "The Catholic church, they should have never been in a position to police themselves," she added.

Some state Catholic leaders, under siege during a year of global scandal over bishops' handling of abuse cases, pushed back. The crux of Madigan's announcement was unfair and "false," said William Kunkel, counsel for the Chicago archdiocese.

"The idea that clergy sexual abuse of minors is more extensive than [we] reported is just false," he said.

"We don't see lawyers, doctors, schools publishing lists like this," he said of allegations not found to be reasonably credible. "It's not fair to put out a list of people accused, any more than it would be fair to put out a list of accused reporters."

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich, who has taken a larger role in proposing reforms in response to the priest sex abuse crisis raging across the U.S. and around the world and was tapped to help organize a larger bishop gathering on sex abuse in February at the Vatican after one next month in Mundelein, did not confirm or deny Madigan's findings in a statement Wednesday, the Sun-Times reported.

"I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse," he was quoted as saying in an Archdiocese of Chicago statement.

The statement from the archdiocese serving Cook and Lake counties said "the nature of the report makes it difficult to discern which generalized findings apply to the Archdiocese of Chicago," rather than the five other dioceses in Illinois, the Sun-Times reported.

The statement also said the archdiocese "has been at the forefront of dealing with the issue of clergy sexual abuse for nearly three decades." It adds: "We have subjected our processes, policies and files to the review of multiple independent experts multiple times to help ensure we remain accountable."

Madigan's office is one of more than a dozen state prosecutors to open investigations this year into Catholic abuse. Since her probe began in August, her spokeswoman said, the five Illinois dioceses have had to add 45 new names to their various lists of credibly accused priests. This reflects a lack of candor, said the office's communications director, Maura Possley, and is why Madigan publicized the number of accusations.

Madigan "felt it was important for transparency purposes and for survivors to know she's taking this seriously," Possley said. "She has said from the get-go, she thinks they have a moral obligation to provide a full and accurate accounting of child sexual abuse."

The U.S. bishops have an unprecedented retreat planned for Jan. 2-8 at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. Madigan said she hopes her report will serve as "a critical document for discussion" at that gathering.

And Pope Francis has convened a first-of-its-kind follow-up meeting in February at the Vatican. The primary issue is how to bring more transparency and accountability to church leaders, which has come to the fore in a year with one bishop after another losing his position due to the topic.

Earlier Wednesday, the Vatican announced a Los Angeles bishop was being removed after a review of a child sex abuse charge from the 1990s.

Madigan's announcement on Wednesday, some experts said, seemed to up the ante because it pushed on a controversial topic that has angered Catholics from left to right - whether the church, under fire since the early 2000s, is really coming clean with its lists. Scandals at the top of the church in 2018 have resulted in a slew of dioceses and religious orders releasing their lists of credibly accused priests.

The problem: There is no standard within the Catholic Church for what constitutes "credible" accusations, and many Catholics and members of the public are skeptical that church leaders are coming forward to civil authorities and the public with everything they have.

Madigan, said longtime survivor advocate Terry McKiernan, is trying to force the church to produce lists that are more transparent and meaningful. Even in recent weeks, McKiernan said Wednesday, some lists around the country are being shown to not have included names that they should have.

"There's a big debate about what 'credible' means, but these lists are clearly incomplete in a number of ways. Or at least there is lag before names are added," he said. "Let's face it, an allegation is an allegation, and very few are unsubstantiated if the diocese does the work to look into it."

  Cardinal Blase Cupich leads the Archdiocese of Chicago. Patrick Kunzer/, Nov. 19
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.