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Illinois attorney general finds massive cover-up of clergy sexual abuse

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A history of massive clergy sexual abuse and cover-up - that's the finding of a report today from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

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

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

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Well, Juana, the report includes the names and details of 451 Catholic priests as well as religious brothers who abused at least 1,997 children across Illinois. And that's over a 70-year period. The report says the various Catholic dioceses in the state had only listed 103 substantiated abuse of priests on their websites. Now, that's a big difference - 451 versus 103.

In addition to the numbers, the report also includes some really heart-rending details of the abuse. And it highlights what it calls a troubling pattern of the church failing to support survivors, ignoring or covering up reports of abuse and the church revictimizing survivors who came forward. And it also has many recommendations about how to handle future child sex abuse allegations.

SUMMERS: And Jason, what about the church? How is the church responding to this?

DEROSE: Well, first, let me explain that this investigation covers all six dioceses or archdioceses in Illinois. And the biggest one, the Archdiocese of Chicago, put out a lengthy statement today. It says it has concerns that the data are being presented in a way that could be misleading. The archdiocese says these alleged abusers had already been disclosed, but the report listed 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 nonclergy, but no people outside the church itself. And the archdiocese says the instances of abuse have dropped off dramatically in recent decades because of newer safeguards it's implemented.

SUMMERS: This report from the state of Illinois is the latest statewide investigation, but it's not the first.

DEROSE: That's right. These sorts of investigations were inspired by what happened in Pennsylvania back in the year 2018. A lengthy grand jury report came out then that detailed really horrific reviews by 300 Catholic priests from that state. It found more than a thousand children had been abused by clergy there. At the time, several attorneys general said they were opening their own investigations based on what they saw had been happening in Pennsylvania. And among them was then-Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan.

SUMMERS: I mean, Jason, it has now been well more than two decades since the widespread abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston came to light. How is it that we are still hearing about these cases all these years later?

DEROSE: Well, I think the first answer is time. First, remember that the abuse became known because of the Boston Globe's groundbreaking investigation back then. There were individual trials of priests, but prosecutors and law enforcement officials, such as attorneys general, then moved to a more systemic approach, like these investigations. So they wanted to look more broadly at what was happening. And then victims of abuse grow up. They seek therapy. They seek counseling, 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're talking now because they're more likely to be believed. And as more come forward, that emboldens even other victims to come forward and do the same.

SUMMERS: NPR's Jason DeRose, thank you.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.