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Catholic Church may have cleaned up, but it has never come clean

A grand jury report on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania has proved to be especially difficult reading for parishioners of St. Therese's Church outside Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The report dredged up painful memories of broken trust and provoked disgust at church leaders who kept abusive priests on the job. St. Therese's lost a pastor over sexual misconduct as recently as 2006. (AP Photo/Michael Rubinkam)

As a mother raising her children in the Catholic Church, reading the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing the rampant sexual assault of hundreds of children by Catholic priests nauseates and infuriates me, again.

The initial responses from the Catholic bishops in Illinois apologizing to victims and their families for these hidden, horrid crimes were well meaning. The bishops also explained the improvements the Church adopted since at least 2002 that are intended to prevent and better respond to similar crimes in the future. Some bishops also pointed out that the terrible crimes detailed in the Pennsylvania report are old. This stings. And it ignores a painful reality.

OPINION

In many cases, the perpetrator priest is dead, but the impacts of violative sex crimes live on in hundreds of thousands of people across the country who had their childhoods stolen and their lives destroyed by the Catholic Church. Their wounds are still raw, and most will never heal. Their pain is compounded when the Church claims it has reformed yet has never revealed its hidden archive of records documenting years of priest abuse. The Church needs to acknowledge and publicly account for every allegation and every crime by opening their secret files to independent review. None of the bishops has offered to do that.

The Catholic Church may have cleaned up, but it has never come clean.

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Decades upon decades of bishops hiding crimes, ignoring complaints of families, lying to parishioners, discrediting victims, moving priests, evading law enforcement, and destroying records demands a full accounting. It is my hope the leaders of the Catholic Church recognize that the legal tactics they have deployed to cover up heinous crimes are immoral and need to end now. Given the repeated history of horrific abuse and the cloak of secrecy, many people doubt things have really changed.

As attorney general, I can work with state’s attorneys to force the Church to produce its records and document all of the crimes children in Illinois suffered. That could be a long and painful process. But Catholic leaders have stood above the people and the law for far too long, and the results have devastated the Church.

Only truth and transparency will bring reconciliation. I await the day the Catholic Church agrees to practice what it preaches.

Lisa Madigan is the Illinois attorney general.