Illinois report highlighting clergy abuse unlikely to lead to criminal charges against church

  • Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a report highlighting the abuse of Catholic priests in the state. It found that nearly 2,000 children in the state had been abused by priests since the 1950s.
  • Raul’s office referred cases that could lead to possible criminal charges to local prosecutors, but he was not aware of any charges being filed.
  • Illinois child sex offender statute repealed, effective January 1, 2020.

Attorney General of Illinois has released a nearly 700-page report concluding a five-year investigation into child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the state, which it said was brought to the attention of the church in 2018 at the start of a state review. It was much worse than it had been acknowledged.

Attorney General Kwame Raul said Tuesday that state investigators have found that more than 450 Catholic priests in Illinois sexually abused nearly 2,000 children since the 1950s.

It follows a familiar pattern — no rush to criminal charges after a 2018 grand jury report on priest abuse in Pennsylvania or last month’s report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Advocates say they believe the report will help more people feel safe talking to family, friends, support groups and law enforcement about what happened to them. . They also say it could prompt people to file civil lawsuits, even for long-ago abuse. They hope the Legislature will take further steps to enable prosecutors to charge older sexual abuse cases and tighten mandatory reporting standards.

“I’m proud of the attorney general and what he’s done, but we can all do so much more together,” said Larry Antonson, a survivor of abuse through the Chicago chapter of the Survivors Network of Priests.

Raul said his office has referred potential cases of criminal charges to local prosecutors but was not aware of any charges being filed.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul speaks after being sworn in for his second term as attorney general during a ceremony on January 9, 2023 in Springfield, Illinois. On May 23, 2023, Raul discussed the findings of his office in an investigation into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the state that goes back decades. Raul claims he has not heard of any charges being laid after the results of the investigation were released. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

The attorney general’s report acknowledged that Illinois statutes of limitations, despite legal changes, remain insurmountable barriers to prosecuting nearly all priests who abused children decades ago. Such laws, which limit how long after a crime a suspect can be charged, are intended to ensure fairness and prevent problems such as witnesses forgetting and evidence disappearing over time. To be avoided.

“Because the statute of limitations has often expired, many survivors of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests will never see legal justice,” the report said.

In the 2000s, Illinois’ statute of limitations on child sexual abuse was 20 years. State lawmakers passed a series of laws ending all statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse, effective Jan. 1, 2020, though with some rare exceptions, they are retroactive to past acts of abuse. do not have. Similar changes were made in filing civil claims.

According to the AG’s investigation, nearly 2,000 ILLINOIS children have been abused by Catholic priests since the 1950s.

Pressure to scrap prohibition laws Child sexual abuse It was driven in part by the 2015 case of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Prosecutors said the time had run out to accuse him of abusing boys while he was a wrestling coach decades ago, but they pursued a case against him on banking violations linked to the abuse.

There are also practical obstacles, even when old cases can be processed. Many of the priests accused of abuse in the 70s, 80s and 90s are dead. So, too, are many potential corroborating witnesses.

The report also states that diocese evidence files – which form the basis of any criminal case – are often woefully incomplete, disorganized and sometimes contain illegible handwriting. The report states that churches generally do not conduct investigations with criminal cases in mind.

According to the report, “Child sexual abuse investigation files from all six dioceses sometimes show a bias in favor of institutional protection in the search for the truth.”

There is also little chance of criminal charges against church officials who help cover up abuse, said David Clohessy, former national director of the Abuse Survivors Network. Without implementing reforms in how churches handle these matters, “we’ve seen that outside forces have been and will continue to be the only effective way to bring about a modicum of change,” he said.

In a Pennsylvania lawsuit against church officials’ handling of abuse complaints, a 20-year effort to prosecute Monsignor William Lynn for child endangerment convictions ended in December with a misdemeanor no-contest plea.

Lynn was the first US church official to face criminal charges, but his 2012 conviction was overturned twice in the next 10 years.

Civil claims, however, can proceed in Illinois if a child was sexually abused in 2014 or later. But the earlier abuse is now covered by the law.

Lawyers who handle civil cases of child sexual abuse say it can be beneficial for survivors to sue, even for elder abuse that is not covered by state law.

ILLINOIS AG plans to discuss findings from 4-year investigation into alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests

Attorneys can often negotiate therapy or counseling at the church’s expense, said Mark Perlman, a Chicago attorney who often handles such cases. Filing a lawsuit at least gives clients a chance to talk about what happened to them for the first time and be believed, he said.

Michael Mertz, another attorney who focuses on child sexual abuse cases, also encouraged those who have experienced abuse to seek legal help and evaluate whether their Exceptions to the statute of limitations may apply to the case.

“Illinois law allows victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward where the church fraudulently covered up their involvement in the abuse,” Mertz said. “As this report shows, the church is concealing the identities of hundreds of abusers.”

In statements released Tuesday, diocese leaders apologized to the victims and said they had made substantial changes, ensuring the allegations were taken seriously and fully investigated.

Archdiocese of Chicago It said in its statement that it “offers care, compassion … and even compensation to all who come forward, regardless of the statute of limitations.”

Some states have created “lookback windows” that allow people to sue no matter how long ago they say they were abused.

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But in Illinois, it would require a constitutional amendment, according to a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling in a case against three Catholic dioceses. The lawsuit alleges that a priest who served as the school’s guest speaker sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy decades ago.

Perlman, though, said the release of the Illinois investigation could provide an opportunity to push a constitutional change through legislation and then win voter support.

“The way to evolve is to keep making small and medium and large changes when we have the opportunity,” he said. “Something like the reports in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, here in Illinois, it creates an opportunity.”

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