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Calls for transparency in Catholic clergy inquiry

Local priest hopes for clarity on claims of 500 additional accusations

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan speaks during a news conference in Chicago.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan speaks during a news conference in Chicago.

In the wake of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's claims that the Catholic Church hid the identities of more than 500 clergy members accused of sexual abuse, players on both sides are calling for improved transparency.

Madigan on Wednesday evening released the preliminary findings of her office's probe into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report claimed the church concealed the identities of more than 500 clergy members accused of sexually abusing minors.

"While the six dioceses in Illinois have now publicly identified 185 clergy members as having been “credibly” accused of child sexual abuse, Madigan’s investigation has found that the dioceses have received allegations of sexual abuse of at least 500 additional priests and clergy members in Illinois," a news release from the attorney general's office stated.

The report, released only weeks before Madigan's successor, Kwame Raoul, is set to take office, did not include the accused clergy members' names or confirm which Illinois diocese they belonged to.

The Diocese of Rockford responded to the preliminary findings with skepticism. The diocese's direct of communications, Penny Wiegert has said the diocese fully cooperated with Attorney Madigan’s office and provided documentation and procedures dating back to 1908.

"The Diocese of Rockford does not agree that the Attorney General’s report is an accurate reflection of this diocese’s historical and current policies and practices of properly responding to allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors; and is disappointed with the broad brush approach taken by the Attorney General’s report," Wiegert wrote in a news release sent Thursday evening.

McHenry pastor Father Paul White echoed the sentiment, noting that the vague nature of Madigan's report handcuffs church leaders in providing answers to their parishes, McHenry pastor Father Paul White said.

"I find it interesting that she let that out the weekend before Christmas and that it's so nebulous," White said. "It doesn’t help the people who come forward, and it doesn’t help anybody, really."

White has been with the Church of Holy Apostles, 5211 Bull Valley Road, for seven years and plans to speak about the attorney general's findings with his church this weekend.

"To anyone who may have been hurt by a priest, I want to say I’m sorry," White said. "We need to start there because we need to listen to each other."

A more final version of Madigan's report, however, would help him and other clergy members better address the issue, he said.

"When you say 500 people have made allegations that weren’t reported, it doesn’t say where they were, it doesn’t say what they were, and it doesn’t say whether they were found credible or not … that’s the difficulty with that," White said. "It would be nice if we worked together a little more."

Madigan launched the investigation in August, after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report describing the scope of clergy child sexual abuse. Her efforts are expected to continue under Raoul's leadership, the attorney general-elect said in an official statement Wednesday.

"The Church’s disclosure of 45 additional priests credibly accused is disturbing in its scope and its significance, as it becomes increasingly clear that full accountability will not come about voluntarily," Raoul said. "These revelations would not have been made without Attorney General Lisa Madigan´s initiation of this probe. I am committed to continuing this investigation when I begin my term as attorney general, working in close collaboration with state’s attorneys throughout Illinois.”

Chicago attorney Jeff Anderson also lauded the investigation's preliminary findings in a statement Wednesday. In October, Anderson and his colleagues announced their involvement in a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of four victims of clergy abuse, in an attempt to force Illinois dioceses to disclose the names of all church members who have been accused of sexually abusing minors.

"We applaud the efforts of Attorney General Madigan and her office," Anderson said. 'It is alarming, that in 2018, there are over 500 clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors that the bishops are still concealing in Illinois. The Illinois bishops must release these names immediately so that survivors can heal and no other kids are harmed."

Although the investigation is ongoing, the preliminary results could provide important talking points for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in January, the attorney general's office said in a news release.

Last month, the Diocese of Rockford published the names of 15 accused clergy members. The list included only the names, ordination date and status of the accused clerics, but didn't specify when the church learned about the abuse, or where it's alleged to have occurred.

Of the people included on the list, the individual to have most recently been removed from the ministry was permanent deacon, Michael Frazier in 2014. Many other clerics on the list since have died or retired.

"The list was compiled after a complete examination of all priest files dating back to the establishment of the Rockford Diocese in 1908," Wiegert said. "Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of that list and to keep it updated as necessary."

In 2002, an attempt to stem the tide of clergy abuse promoted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to establish the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter acts as a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church.

The Rockford diocese also has a health committee that, among other responsibilities, is trained to identify potential abusers and recognize grooming patterns, said White, who is a committee member.

“Our diocese does better than most for a couple reasons, because we have this health committee ... but also because we’re smaller and easier to keep track of," White said.

The Rockford diocese's list of credibly accused clergy members "will be updated as necessary," Bishop David Malloy said in a November release.

Anyone with information about allegations of sexual assault and abuse can contact the attorney general's Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-888-414-7678 or clergyabuse@atg.state.il.us.

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally said victims of sexual abuse should report their situation to police, regardless of how much time has passed, since potential roadblocks involving the statute of limitations should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

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