Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is continuing her investigation of the state’s six Roman Catholic dioceses, and now says criminal prosecution is a potential.
Madigan launched an investigation in August, after a Pennsylvania grand jury report contained “credible” accounts of child sexual abuse incidents committed by over 300 Catholic priests.
The attorney general has been seeking records from Illinois dioceses. She says they should make public the names of priests who have “credible allegations” against them. So far, four of the six dioceses in Illinois have complied, while the other two already had names of priests published.
Madigan says there’s still a lot of information to review.
The Attorney General’s office is also looking into how sexual abuse allegations are currently handled. Madigan says she wants to hold the Church accountable for wrongdoings, past and present.
"Often times you’ll hear, ‘Well, this happened years ago and these perpetrators aren’t even alive anymore, and so there’ll be no criminal action taken against them.’ It completely ignores the devastation that is caused to victims for a lifetime."
Madigan says hundreds of abuse reports have poured into her office so far thanks to a clergy abuse hotline. When Attorney General-elect Kwame Raoul takes over her job in January, Madigan says she’s confident he’ll continue the work.
Below are excerpts from our interivew with Attorney General Madigan. It's been edited for clarity.
Can you reiterate what the aim with this whole investigation is?
LM: "In the aftermath of Pennsylvania grand jury report coming out about the extensive abuse of children that had taken place in their dioceses, I recognize that there was really a pattern and practice that was taking place. There were at least seven clergy members who had, at some point, had contact with the state of Illinois, either being moved here or just coming here."
"We first and foremost wanted to identify what had taken place with those individuals, whether [there were] any allegations against them here in the state of Illinois, but we also wanted to make sure that the Catholic Diocese here in Illinois had fully and completely revealed any sexual abuse of minors that have taken place with clergy here."
"We are still at the beginning stages of our investigation: reviewing the files. One of the things that the dioceses have done as part of our investigation is to start to publish the list of names of clergy members with credible allegations of abuse against minors, but there is far more information for us to go through. I think there'll be far more information that needs to be made public to parishioners as well. I also think you can anticipate that there will be more names of clergy that will be released on the basis of our investigation."
One of the church officials I've talked to on this has said that the financial burden that comes from legal action when it comes to this sort of thing has put a financial strain on the church. What do you say to things like that?
LM: "Well, I think that response is reprehensible. The reality is that the actions the criminal actions of Catholic clergy members have ruined people's lives, and not just those individuals who were children at the time, but their entire families. The Catholic Church has to take full responsibility for what it's done, and they need to come clean. They need to put in place better procedures to ensure that the types of crimes never happen again. And that's one of the reasons that we're going to pursue this investigation."
What specifically would you like changed when it comes to this sort of thing, and from what you've seen of what policies are in place in some of these diocese, is it enough?
LM: "Well, we're working on that. One of the things we've already found is that there really is no protocol when it comes to dealing with these matters. Each diocese handles things a little bit differently. We're concerned about making sure that there are best practices that are followed, in terms of prevention, in terms of investigation, in terms of reporting."
"It's become clear that the Catholic Church cannot handle these matters internally, they can't handle these matters as personnel matters, crimes were committed, and for decades, the Catholic Church was hiding them. They were, in many ways, discrediting the victims and their families. They have improved since the early 2000s, but, you know, based on the people that are coming to us, there was still a lot of work to do."
You mentioned that this investigation is preliminary at the moment, but what does the office looking to do as you move forward?
LM: "We still have an enormous amount of information to review from the diocese. We're also looking at making sure that there are best practices put in place, and hopefully a standard protocol put in place in terms of prevention and investigation and reporting. It may be that there are some circumstances under which criminal prosecution will be warranted. But, you know, the goal here is to ensure a full and complete accounting to the victims and parishioners and the public."