Raoul report: Far more Catholic clergy sexually abused Illinois kids than dioceses acknowledged

A multiyear investigation into child sexual abuse by members of Illinois' Catholic clergy found 451 Catholic priests and religious brothers abused nearly 2,000 children over seven decades, according to a report released Tuesday by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who criticized church leaders for allowing abusers to "hide in plain sight."

Child sexual abuse by clergy members was more widespread than the church acknowledged, according to the report.

Dating back to the 1960s, leaders from the Archdiocese of Chicago - which includes Cook and Lake counties - made "glaring missteps along the way and serial predators were at times given ample opportunity to abuse well beyond the time they should have been removed from ministry," the report states.

According to Raoul, leaders from Illinois dioceses in Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield as well as the Archdiocese of Chicago fully supported and cooperated with the investigation, which commenced in late 2018 under his predecessor, Lisa Madigan.

Before the investigation, Illinois Catholic dioceses publicly listed only 103 substantiated child sex abusers, Raoul said.

"By comparison, this report reveals the names and detailed information of 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children across all dioceses in the state of Illinois," he said.

During the course of the investigation, the other four dioceses began listing their own names of known child sex abusers who ministered within their purviews, eventually upping the number of disclosed abusers to 320. The original 103 names disclosed by the Archdiocese of Chicago and Diocese of Joliet had some overlap with lists of names later disclosed by the other four dioceses.

But there are 149 clerics in the report that had not ever been disclosed by the dioceses, Raoul said.

Of the 348 clerics listed in the report above the original 103, 330 are dead, Raoul said.

"Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight," Raoul said. "Because of 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.

"It is my sincere hope that this report will shine a light 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," he added. "These perpetrators may never be held accountable in a court of law. But by naming them in this report, the intention is to provide public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence."

Cupich responds

Organized into five sections, the 700-page report examines the long-term impact of child sex abuse and how each Illinois diocese handled allegations - and specifically, "how inaction by Catholic bishops and archbishops often led to scores of abused children."

The report also includes detailed survivors' narratives recounting their experiences and data analyses revealing that each Illinois diocese underreported the number of child sex abusers in the Catholic clergy.

The final section includes the attorney general office's recommendations to dioceses for the handling of future child sex abuse allegations, including addressing disclosures, improving investigations and increasing transparency.

In a prepared statement, Archdiocese of Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich apologized on behalf of the archdiocese "to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics."

"Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims," Cupich said.

The Chicago archdiocese first adopted policies and procedures to address "the scourge of child sexual abuse and support survivors" in 1992, and they have served as a model for other organizations, he added.

Cupich also expressed concern that data might be misunderstood or presented in a misleading way.

Of the 451 names disclosed in the report, "all were reported to civil authorities, none were undisclosed, none were hiding in plain sight since at least 2002," Cupich's statement reads.

"The 149 still 'undisclosed' men are mostly religious order members who are not on our site," according to Cupich. "They are not undisclosed, and they are under the supervision and report to their respective order."

Focus on Joliet bishop

According to the report, former Joliet Bishop Joseph Leopold Imesch failed to protect children from even convicted sex abusers on several occasions "by giving these abusers the green light to minister in the diocese."

Imesch - who served as the diocese's bishop from 1979 to 2006 - covered up for abusers by sending them to new parishes without relaying their history, the report states. When that practice came to light, "Imesch caused further harm by casting blame on others and mistreating abuse survivors," according to the report.

The Joliet diocese includes DuPage, Will, Kendall and Grundy counties, among others.

Its current leader, Bishop Ronald A. Hicks, issued a statement Tuesday expressing "profound remorse over any failure of the diocese to respond to an allegation of abuse" and pledged to strictly adhere to the safeguards implemented by the U.S. bishops 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

"I pray for the continued healing of victims/survivors so they may overcome the burden of their pain and move forward with courage," Hicks said. "No sin of such great magnitude as sexual abuse of minors should ever be forgotten. Remembering the harm done forces us to remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure it never happens again."

Current policy states that any allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor leads to the accused cleric's removal pending a full investigation, Hicks said.

In the Rockford diocese

According to the Raoul's report, the Rockford diocese under former Bishop Arthur Joseph O'Neill "opened its arms in 1987 to a Phoenix (Arizona) priest who had just been convicted of a crime relating to the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy." O'Neill was familiar with the priest's past, according to the report, yet agreed "to provide refuge to him in the Diocese of Rockford.

"He justified his decision with chilling reasoning: 'We have to take some in since we have some, too,'" the report states.

In a prepared statement, the Rockford diocese apologized for the "pain endured by victim survivors of childhood sexual abuse."

"No child should ever be harmed, and no adult should have to endure the memories of that harm," the statement reads. "Our priority today remains the safety of all children and vulnerable individuals and the repair of the past."

The Rockford diocese includes Kane, McHenry, Boone and DeKalb counties, among others. O'Neill served as its bishop from 1968 to 1994.

According to the diocese, the Raoul's report contains inaccuracies regarding "known abusers actively ministering in our diocese."

"To the best of our knowledge, that is simply not true," the statement reads. "There is no cleric or lay person in ministry or employment in the Diocese of Rockford with a credible accusation against him or her."

The diocese posts on its website a list dating back to 1908 of clergy against whom a substantiated allegation of childhood sexual abuse has been made. That list is updated as necessary, according to the diocese.

Raoul praised survivors for their courage in sharing their experiences.

"It was the survivors of child sex abuse who gave purpose and drive to this investigation," he said

To report current abuse allegations, contact the Department of Children and Family Services at (800) 252-2873 or To report past child sexual abuse by religious and institutional authorities clergy, contact the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) at

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