Cupich’s lackluster response to alarming undercount of Catholic clergy sex abuse won’t cut it

There’s no room for anything other than full acceptance of the hard, brutal truth revealed by a five-year investigation: The Catholic Church in Illinois failed to acknowledge hundreds of allegedly abusive priests and other religious figures.

SHARE Cupich’s lackluster response to alarming undercount of Catholic clergy sex abuse won’t cut it
The public, especially abuse survivors and faithful members of the Catholic church, deserve more than Archbishop Blase Cupich’s lackluster response to a new report on underreported clergy sex abuse.

The public, especially abuse survivors and faithful members of the Catholic Church, deserve more than Archbishop Blase Cupich’s lackluster response to a new report on underreported clergy sex abuse.

Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media

Now is a moment of reckoning for the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses — a time to come clean and shine a full light on child sexual abuse within the institution and, where still possible, bring the abusers and their enablers to justice.

Cardinal Blase Cupich has an open door and the responsibility to do just that with this week’s release of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s nearly 700-page report that indicated how alarmingly widespread the problem has been in Illinois: The number of child sexual abusers within the church is four times higher than what the dioceses have previously reported.

Cupich could have used the release of the report as an opportunity to promise to tackle the problem, correct the undercount — that’s a charitable description — and to express full-throated outrage over the sexual abuse scandals that have hung over the church for years.

But he didn’t. The public got this instead:

Editorials bug

Editorials

“We have not studied the report in detail but have concerns about data that might be misunderstood or are presented in ways that could be misleading,” Cupich said. “We think all children deserve to be protected, regardless of whether they are cared for by a religious or secular institution.”

Cupich’s statement strikes us as astoundingly mealy-mouthed, defensive and deflective, and beneath him and the office he holds.

There’s no room for anything other than full acceptance of the hard, brutal truth: The church in Illinois failed to acknowledge hundreds of allegedly abusive priests and other religious figures.

Raoul hopes report ‘shines a light’

Raoul’s report, as the Sun-Times’ Robert Herguth reported Tuesday, found 451 clerics and religious brothers within the state’s Catholic churches abused “at least” 1,997 children over the course of seven decades.

But before the start of the five-year investigation, which began in 2018 under then-Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the state’s Catholic dioceses claimed only 103 substantiated child sex abusers.

“Our record’s clean,” Cupich said in a 2018 private gathering of about 200 men studying at the Mundelein Seminary to be priests. “I’m confident that, when the attorney general looks in our files ... that she will, in fact, find that we’re doing our job.”

But that was apparently not the case, according to Raoul’s investigation, which reviewed more than 100,000 pages of records from dioceses in Chicago, Joliet, Rockford, and three dioceses that cover downstate.

The report also includes more than 600 confidential contacts from alleged abuse survivors.

“It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse,” Raoul said in his report.

The sin ‘that should not be forgotten’

Cupich responded to the report with a YouTube video and a written statement.

“It isn’t fair or wise to focus only on the Catholic church, which has made the greatest strides in this area,” he said.

Can you imagine a rebuttal like that from a firefighter, seeking credit for extinguishing a portion of a burning building while the rest of the structure is still ablaze?

The parishes and public, especially abuse survivors and faithful members of the Catholic church, deserve better from Cupich.

A far more adequate response came from Joliet Bishop Ronald A. Hicks, whose diocese was sharply criticized in Raoul’s report.

“No sin of such great magnitude as sexual abuse of minors should ever be forgotten,” Hicks told the Sun-Times. “Remembering the harm done forces us to remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure it never happens again.”

Said Raoul: “It is my hope that this report will shine light both on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children, and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse.”

The state’s dioceses have been more transparent than they were in the past when it comes to exposing sexually abusive clergy.

But that was in no small part prompted by the attorney general’s office investigation, public outcry, and Sun-Times reports over the past several years.

The attorney general’s report — and the vast discrepancy between his figures and those from the dioceses — raises a major question asked of Raoul at a Tuesday news conference: Have church officials lied about the extent of sexual abuse in the dioceses?

Raoul didn’t quite say, only that “I think the numbers sort of speak for themselves.”

But Cupich must also speak, we hope with a promise to use the attorney general’s report as a tool to help him take more decisive action against child sex abusers.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com

The Latest
Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks threw seven shutout innings in the rivalry game.
“He’s unlike any other pitcher I’ve ever seen in terms of how he moves,’' Pirates rookie sensation Paul Skenes said.
“Build around Garrett Crochet, myself, [Jonathan] Cannon and the younger guys coming up and just try to turn this thing around,’' Drew Thorpe said.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office will perform an autopsy on Ahmad Abed, who was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital less than two hours after an apparent medical emergency at the jail.