The Catholic Church in Illinois withheld the names of at least 500 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, the state’s attorney general said Wednesday in a scathing report that accused the church of failing victims by neglecting to investigate their allegations.
The preliminary report by Attorney General Lisa Madigan concludes that the Catholic dioceses in Illinois are incapable of investigating themselves and “will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.”
Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said in a statement, “I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse.
“It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in church history.”
Ms. Madigan, a Democrat who served four terms as Illinois’ attorney general and is the daughter of the state’s powerful and longtime speaker of the House, is days away from leaving office. She chose not to run again.
Kwame Raoul, a fellow Democrat who will replace Ms. Madigan in January, said he was committed to continuing the investigation Ms. Madigan had begun. He said he would work closely with prosecutors around the state on the issue.
“Today’s news demonstrates the need for ongoing diligence in investigating crimes against children taking place within institutions that do not have a history of unilateral, proactive transparency,” he said in a statement, in which he praised Ms. Madigan for initiating the investigation.
Abuse by Catholic priests was the biggest religion story of 2018, driven by a Pennsylvania grand jury report that exposed its massive scale and cover-ups. Scholars writing for The Conversation brought facts to our readers that had taken them years to research.
As we became partners in unpacking this complex research, I came to better understand the tremendous challenges that these scholars faced – as well as the personal toll this research took.
Here are three pieces from our 2018 clergy sex abuse coverage to explain some of the issues that scholars grappled with.
1. The emotional toll
Brian Clites, a religion scholar at Case Western Reserve University, wrote about the long history of abuse by priests, including a time when it was believed that prayer could heal the abusers. In 1947, Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, who began his ministry in Boston and Quebec, moved to New Mexico and founded the Servants of the Paraclete, a new order of Catholic priests “devoted to healing deviant clergy.”
From 2011 to 2017, Clites interviewed 60 survivors in Chicago, Boston and Pennsylvania. Each interview lasted about three hours. He also attended survivor events in Chicago. The years took an emotional toll, as he told me. “I would often cry while reading the documents that survivors shared with me,” he said.
Describing working last summer long-distance with two female survivors who were suicidal, he said, “It was difficult to fall asleep not knowing whether they would make it through the night.”
2. The Vatican bureaucracy
Melissa Wilde, a scholar at University of Pennsylvania, explores some difficult doctrinal changes made possible by an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops held between 1962 to 1965 – a meeting that came to be known as Vatican II.
Wilde spent seven years researching the Vatican before even beginning to write. “I was the first researcher,” she said, to “ever see many of these documents.” Some of the documents she obtained were part of “the Vatican Secret Archive.”
But other materials like letters and other personal correspondence, as well as information on various conservative and progressive groups, were scattered around the world. So, she said, “In the end, I gathered materials from six archival collections, in seven languages.”
In addition, she noted, was the work of managing the reams of information she collected. “Creating a database of Council votes with which I could assess national patterns took years.”
3. Canon laws
As one can imagine, it wasn’t possible to tell these stories in 800 words – the average length of a Conversation piece – without hours of trying to figure out how to tell the story and which story to tell.
Carolyn M. Warner, a professor at Arizona State University, spent some precious hours working on a piece on a complex set of canon laws that lay out the theology of the Church and which can be changed only by the pope. In a short piece, Warner managed to encapsulate close to two thousand years of Church history.
Her piece explained how the canons were created and the changes that came about over the years. She wrote about how a “canon to avoid scandal” came to be added in the laws, because of a deeply held conviction to “promote and safeguard the faith,” and how such a canon compounded the issue of secrecy around errant priests.
With Catholic orders and diocese releasing lists of priests found to be “credibly accused,” we can expect ever more revelations about the trauma of survivors to come out in 2019. Perhaps it’s worth remembering, it’s the years of work by many – scholars, journalists and activists – that helped bring this story to light.
The man who was at the helm of the Twin Cities Catholic church during the clergy abuse scandals is now officially banned from celebrating mass in his former archdiocese.
Former Archbishop John Nientstedt, who resigned from the archdiocese in 2015, is no longer free to “exercise public ministry” there, per an order from his successor, Archbishop Bernard Hebda.
The reason? Nienstedt is himself facing unresolved allegations of abuse involving minors.
According to a Friday announcement from Archbishop Hebda, the alleged incident is said to have occurred in 2005, when Nienstedt was bishop of New Ulm. He is alleged to have undressed in front of two “unaccompanied minors” in his hotel room at a World Youth Day event in Germany.
As the announcement points out, Nienstedt denies this ever happened.
However, he has also been accused of “inappropriate conduct with adult males,” and according to documents that surfaced in 2016, Neinstedt has been dogged by allegations from fellow priests and rumors of a “promiscuous gay lifestyle” for years.
In his letter, Hebda points out that “any effort by the Vatican” to address these latter allegations was suspended in 2015 when Nienstedt resigned, leaving the matter “unresolved for the accusers, for Archbishop Nienstedt and for the public.”
Hebda says he is “troubled by the failure to bring closure” to an investigation into the matter, and that he shares the frustration of all involved that the situation has been left in limbo.
The archbishop added that he believes “this situation highlights the need for a better-defined process and independent mechanism to resolve allegations made against bishops.”
Hebda’s Friday declaration, he points out, “is not intended to convey an indication or presumption of guilt,” which is true of all “similar cases involving our priests and deacons.”
Nienstedt’s current status
Earlier this year, Nienstedt stepped down from his consulting duties at the Napa Institute, a Catholic organization.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the resignation came amid a wave of criticism against the Napa Institute for employing Nienstedt despite its “stance against bishops accused of mishandling sexual abuse.”
Indeed, Nienstedt was heavily criticized for his leadership during the high-profile sex abuse cases that rocked the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
It was a list Charles L. Bailey Jr. had wanted to see for years: the names of the priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Mr. Bailey, 67, a longtime local advocate for survivors of abuse by priests, had heard excuses for why such a list was impossible to release. The last bishop said naming accused priests would be a violation of the Ten Commandments. The current bishop said he would not disclose the names, citing the request of unnamed victims.
But then on Dec. 3, Mr. Bailey got a call from a local reporter. It was up, on the diocesan website. Fifty-seven priests. None were still in ministry and most were deceased, including, there on Page 4, the priest who had repeatedly raped Mr. Bailey when he was not yet a teenager.
As the Catholic Church faces a wave of federal and state attorney general investigations into its handling of sex abuse, bishops around the country have struggled with how to react. Some have locked down defensively. Others are waiting on guidance from the Vatican, which instructed American bishops last month to wait on taking any collective action until the new year.
But dozens of bishops have decided to take action by releasing lists of the priests in their dioceses who were credibly accused of abuse. And they are being released at an unprecedented pace.
The disclosures have trickled out week by week — 10 names in Gaylord, Mich.; 28 in Las Cruces, N.M.; 28 in Ogdensburg, N.Y.; 15 in Atlanta; 34 in San Bernardino, Calif., among many others. All 15 dioceses in Texas have agreed to release lists. Last week, the leaders of two major Jesuit provinces, covering nearly half of the states, released the names of more than 150 members of the order “with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”
“We’ve never seen this kind of outpouring before,” said Terry McKiernan, co-director and president of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks clergy sex abuse cases.
By his count, at least 35 dioceses have released lists or updates of previous lists since the beginning of August. That nearly doubles the number that had ever been released before, since the first one in 2002 by the Diocese of Tucson.
“It’s a dramatic change in how bishops are approaching this,” Mr. McKiernan said.
Many of the priests named on the lists are dead, but not all. Many had already been known as abusers, but scores of names are new, even to activists who have been closely following the church abuse scandals for years. Among the known allegations, many of the cases date back generations.
But few of the lists provide details about the allegations themselves, including when they occurred or how many victims were affected.
Some victims, as they comb through the lists, say there are names missing. Others see reason for distrust in the fact that the church had names to release at all, nearly two decades after claiming the sexual abuse scandals introduced a new era of transparency.
The lists are coming in the wake of an explosive grand jury report released in August by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, detailing at grim length the abuse of over 1,000 people by hundreds of priests. Investigations have followed in more than a dozen states.
“Names coming out this way,” Mr. McKiernan said of the voluntary releases, “is really different from the way they came out in the grand jury report.”
The scope of the federal investigation remains unclear. Last month, William M. McSwain, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sent a request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the United States not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse.
Still, if releasing the lists was meant to defuse the anger of the church’s critics, there is little evidence it has done that.
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In Syracuse, Mr. Bailey said that he had already received calls from victims who said their abusers were not on the list. The name of the priest who had raped Mr. Bailey was listed in a section for clergy who “were deceased at the time of the reporting of the allegation,” a claim he said was contradicted by some of the priest’s abuse victims.
“There’s no credibility,” said Mr. Bailey, head of the local chapter of S.N.A.P., the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “I thought it was going to be more gobbledygook and that’s just what it is.”
The Diocese of Syracuse said it had heard from people who were unhappy with the list’s release and others who were grateful.
“It is not surprising that there are mixed reactions to the list as it was and continues to be a divisive issue,” said Danielle Cummings, the chancellor and director of communications for the Syracuse diocese. She said the list was put together from a comprehensive review of allegations of abuse going back 70 years, but added: “If there is a name that individuals believe should be on the list, they can bring it forward to the diocese or the District Attorney.”
With no central reporting system and given the movement of priests around dioceses, it is hard to judge how comprehensive the lists may be, even by comparing them with previously disclosed numbers.
In Buffalo, a former assistant to the local bishop came forward to say that the list released by the diocese, with 42 names, was far shorter than the dioceses’ internal list, which had more than 100 names. Sexual abuse victims in Rockford, Ill., said the names of their abusers were nowhere on the list released there.
Among a laity distrustful of the church’s handling of sex abuse, there is a widespread sentiment that the only way to get the truth is through the subpoena power of law enforcement.
“The civil court system, that’s the new way the Holy Spirit moves,” said Patrick Wall, a former priest and canon lawyer who now works on behalf of abuse victims.
Advocacy groups suggest that bishops could invite the authorities to pore through all of a diocese’s files. Or the authorities could come in uninvited, as was the case when dozens of federal and local agents conducted a surprise search of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston last month.
Yet civil authorities have limits, too, as was made clear in a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. In a Dec. 3 opinion, the court agreed with a group of unnamed priests who argued that the grand jury report did not allow them their right of due process to submit evidence and arguments in their defense. Their names remain redacted in the report.
The bishops who are trying to compile their own lists are wrestling with some of the same issues.
At a meeting of bishops in Baltimore in November, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, of Springfield, Ill., told his fellow bishops it was not as simple as deciding that an allegation was credible, or not credible. He asked: What if a priest was accused 20 years ago, but the diocesan review board that was supposed to judge the case never came to a conclusion?
“If it was inconclusive 20 years ago, it’s still inconclusive,” he said, “and I hesitate to come down on one side of that.”
In an interview this week, Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., said he had long considered the downsides of lists like these greater than their upsides. No one was ever satisfied with them.
“If you had asked me a year ago if I were going to publish a list, I would have said no,” Bishop Coyne said.
But the times have changed. In September, a joint state and local law enforcement task force began looking at allegations of severe abuse decades ago at a Catholic-run orphanage in the Burlington diocese. The diocese says it is cooperating; officials are in the offices every week.
Since early November, a board of lay people, chaired by a non-Catholic, has been coming to the diocesan offices to examine files relating to accused priests. The board is expected to produce a list of names by the end of the year.
The mistrust underlying all this was earned, Bishop Coyne said. The bishops had proven over the last two decades that they had not been able to police themselves. But given the current atmosphere, self-policing might not be an option any more.
“Now I have a reason,” Bishop Coyne said of pushing for the publication of a list. “The list is going to get published anyway.”
Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking official in the Catholic Church, has been convicted in Australia on charges related to the sexual abuse of two choir boys in the 1990s, TheDaily Beast reported Tuesday.
Pell, the Church’s finance chief and the highest-ranking Vatican official ever to be tried for sexual abuse, left Rome in June 2017 to stand trial in Melbourne. A judge granted the prosecutor’s request for a gag order ahead of the trial in order to “prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice.”
Two choir boys accused Pell of abusing them in a backroom at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where they sang, when he was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
Pell is due to be tried again in the coming months for allegedly abusing two other boys at a swimming pool in Victoria in the 1970s, when he was a priest there, according to the Guardian.
The Australian Daily Telegraph hinted at the Tuesday verdict on its homepage while mocking that country’s censorship rules, which prevent the details of criminal proceedings from being made public.
The verdict comes at the end of a year rife with reports of widespread sexual misconduct by members of the Catholic clergy. A Pennsylvania grand-jury report released in August exposed the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by 301 priests in Pennsylvania churches over 70 years.
Following the release of the report, Pope Francis asked Catholics to forgive the Church’s failure to confront the “culture of death” fostered by predatory clergy.