Learning About Survivors From the Illinois Attorney General’s 2023 Report on Clergy Sex Abuse

Posted in: Criminal Law

The report about abuse in the six Roman Catholic Illinois Dioceses is 696 pages long and exemplifies a report that prioritizes the survivors.

Throughout, the report calls the people who suffered abuse “survivors,” not “victims”—a simple terminology choice that demonstrates that good things that can happen to survivors when people listen to their stories and criticize their abusers instead of hiding the abuse and protecting the clergy. Victims become survivors through reports like this, especially when all the abusers are named on the diocesan lists of wrongdoers.

This report was started after Pennsylvania produced its Diocese Victims Report showing how much harm that state’s clergy had done to children. The Illinois report was started by former Attorney General Lisa Madigan and completed by current AG Kwame Raoul, who expressed two goals for the report: to provide a complete accounting of abuse and to give voice to survivors in hopes of healing them.

Raoul and his staff and a lengthy list of co-workers reviewed more than 100,000 pages of diocese documents, interviewed for countless hours, and heard from and listened to the survivors, who repeatedly told of their experiences.

The numbers tell the story of the AG’s accomplishments pre-investigation, the dioceses listed 103 substantiated child sex abusers. This report identifies 451 who abused at least 1,997 children. The dioceses learned from this report that they must list all the abusers that the AG found, each diocese and every abuser, old, young, dead, alive, religious order, diocesan, substantiated, unsubstantiated.

The following are the report’s important themes.

Survivors’ Health. At the beginning, the report emphasizes the “Long Term Harms Experienced by Survivors of Child Sex Abuse.” (35) The report repeatedly tells us, “the consequences of child sex abuse do not end when the abuse ends.” (36) The report mentions mental health, addiction and alcoholism, suicide and suicidal ideation, physical health, economic and professional consequences—all of which abuse survivors may suffer. The theme throughout this report is the profound and constant effect of abuse on the lives of survivors. They suffer long and hard from their abuse, and that is why it is important to recognize their abusers and publicly list their names, in part so the survivors know they are not alone. Others have been abused along with them.

Information Relating to Child Sex Abusers” is provided for the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Belleville, the Diocese of Joliet, the Diocese of Peoria, the Diocese of Rockford, and the Diocese of Springfield. There is background on the history of each diocese, who served them as bishop, and when. Each diocese has a list of abusers that includes his

Name, Ordination Year, Diocese or Religious Order, Illinois Assignments, Reported Number of Survivors, Date/Location of Reported Abuse, Diocese Claim of First Report, Placed on Catholic Church Public Lists, and Actions/Status. There are 183 pages of these names and reports, showing everyone just how many abusers there were and are.

Narrative Accounts of Sexual Abuse give details of what the survivors went through. They are sometimes identified by name, sometimes not identified—survivor’s choice. We read the horrible stories. Children repeatedly waking up to someone performing a sexual act on them. “I was a toy for him.” (492) The children called one priest ”Father Happy Hands” because of what he did with them. (87) One school principal resigned because the church would not listen to her reports of abuse. One survivor says “I was the bottom dog.” He didn’t understand what Father was doing to him, but it reminded him of seeing “neighborhood dogs humping.” (289) Oral sex, one priest explains, “is how a priest shows love to his congregation. It’s very normal.” (491) Another priest started to fondle Rob and asked for oral sex. “Other boys kiss my dick,” he said. “You should too.” (564) Many decades have passed since Bishop Ryan raped Scott repeatedly in the basement of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. “But I can still smell him right now,” Scott says. “Like old stink and alcohol.” (548) Ryan, like many of the abusers, was never prosecuted. And priests usually tell the children to keep the secret. No one else should know about it.

You can read one or two or all of these narratives, or page through the lists. It is incredible to understand why the voices of survivors were the “true north” (16) of this report.

The statutes of limitations are here, as Marci Hamilton and CHILD USA have persistently reminded us as they fought to amend the statutes. SOLs set the deadline for when one can get into court. Many survivors will never get legal justice because the SOL has run against them. This AG makes the point that naming the abusers can provide “a public accountability and a measure of healing to survivors who have long suffered in silence.” (4) This is the justice available to them. Here Illinois is different from other states because it has a state court opinion limiting the state’s ability to change the SOLs. In Illinois, it will take a constitutional amendment to do it. So why not give survivors justice by naming their abusers? Justice can still be available to them.

The history of the dioceses is mixed. Sometimes abuse complaints were met by simply moving the abuser to a new abuse location. When this report began, only Chicago and Joliet had published lists with only 103 names. The AG got them to 451. This is no surprise, as abuse was hidden by the churches. The dioceses had differing policies and procedures, and they were often abuser-friendly. They often had bad filing and communications. Moreover, they often refused to investigate the abusers so the survivors could not get justice.

The Diocese of Joliet, e.g., had “unwritten policies that derail justice for abuse survivors” (316) It had the power to end investigations too early and to retraumatize victims. In the Springfield Diocese, Bishop Ryan was not going after abusers because he was also an abuser. “Bishops O’Connor, McNicholas, and Ryan led the Diocese of Springfield for 50 years—50 years of turning their backs on children who were sexually abused by clerics in the diocese. Warning bells sounded, and time and time again these men ignored the alarms. As a result, children of the diocese suffered through decades of child sex abuse, the impact of which continues to this day.” (533)

The dioceses had a difference of opinion with the AG on deceased, resigned, or laicized priests. The diocese did not report or study them because they were deceased, resigned, or laicized. That might sound instinctively right to you. Why investigate someone who is dead? But the AG has a different perspective. If you want healing, you need the abusers’ names out there because it turns victims into survivors. This is something the report changed. Survivors kept explaining how much it meant to their healing to get the church to investigate and to substantiate and publish their claim.

The church must investigate even those whose criminal allegations fail. Civil lawsuits should not be an excuse to avoid investigation. “The abuse was not as bad as dealing with the Diocese of Springfield,” Kelly insists. “They hid behind their dead priest policy. All I wanted from the diocese was that the truth be told.” (572)

The dioceses also did not want to include religious orders or externs on their lists because they are “not our men,” even though they were working in the diocese. They are governed by their order and not by the diocese. The report points out that doesn’t make sense if you care about survivors. The AG ultimately convinced dioceses to include these names on their lists.

Lawsuits? Being honest with the survivors could subject the diocese to additional lawsuits. There is a conflict between survivors and making sure the church doesn’t pay too much money. “Another illustration of the tension between the goals of limiting liability for the institution and promoting justice for survivors.” (480) The cost to the church is always at issue. Sometimes the church will stop paying for counselors for survivors as it is simply too expensive, even though paying for counseling was a good idea.

There is data analysis by Dr. Greg Ridgeway. It shows how many abusers there were and how many years they were available to abuse. The numbers show the differences among the bishops. This analysis pays more attention to facts in different dioceses, unlike the John Jay Report, commissioned by the bishops, which combined all the data, not by diocese. Also John Jay data was reported by the bishops, who were long too skeptical about allegations to report everything necessary.

This report explains what happens with survivors; opening this investigation let them speak, be heard, learn there are others and that they are not alone. It gives the names of abusers, the stories of survivors, the mistakes made by the Illinois Dioceses, the lessons the dioceses learned from the Attorney General’s thorough investigation, and suggestions for more that the dioceses can do to protect survivors. Then the AG says, “more work remains.” (634)

The future work is in five categories: (1) Survivor Care and Communications, (2) Investigations and Determinations, (3) Disclosure and Transparency, (4) Mediation and Compensation, and (5) Religious Orders.

1) To care for survivors, dioceses must separate support offices from investigations. They must allow reporting any way it can happen, and make it available on the website. Anonymity should be allowed for survivors if they want to use that (as some but not all did in this report). Obviously, no retaliation against survivors is permitted. The existence and number of prior complaints should be disclosed and not hidden, whether they are substantiated or unsubstantiated. Also be prepared to deal with those who have been negatively affected by abuse. Bishops should meet with survivors privately. They should make sure the counselors are educated and qualified for this kind of work.

2) “Child sex abuse” should have uniform terms and standards in all the dioceses and not a different standard in one from the other. This report suggests “substantiated” and “unsubstantiated” as good terms to use. A complaint is substantiated if “it is reasonable to suspect that the accused engaged in child sex abuse.” (654) Improve the intake procedures and keep track of everything. Even hire an independent private investigator to see how everything is treated. A lot of the dioceses’ files didn’t have very much in them. And avoid bias in your investigations. Having the investigator would make the investigations consistent with one another.

3) Disclosure and transparency are huge, and maybe one of the biggest accomplishments. Get the names out there. All of them. This helps and heals the survivors. It might make sense to think you should leave the dead ones alone. But they didn’t leave the survivors alone, and survivors get the first call. Listing the names is a “game changer” for survivors, maybe part of what turns them from victims to survivors. (660) Keep updating and investigating. Again, there were many names missing from the dioceses’ websites. Make the listings very specific. And include everybody on the lists, as this report does.

4) Mediation and compensation work because SOL prevents justice in many cases so they need this justice. Here they mention the SOLs and how they work as a “complete defense” for the dioceses. (674) In Illinois, no SOL for crimes on or after January 1, 2020. Before that date, a 20-year SOL applies. No time limit on filing civil claims for child sex abuse on or after January 1, 2014. And there is no longer a time limit to file civil claims for abuse that occurred before that date, provided the preexisting time limit had not already expired by January 1, 2014. The report mentions California’s and New York’s brief open windows, which overcame those states’ SOLs. However, to get that in Illinois you would have to amend the state constitution. That leaves negotiation or mediation. Dioceses should develop a viable independent mediation and compensation program. Yes, compensate the survivors for what they suffered.

5) Don’t avoid those religious orders or externs, or the deceased, resigned, or laicized. Report and include, including what the orders find about them. Dioceses should stop resisting putting the abusers’ names on the list.

This is what frees survivors. And survivors should come first, as they do in this report.

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