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Report shines light on 395 Catholic priests, church staff accused of sex abuse

Holy Name Cathedral | Sun-Times file photo

A 182-page report released Wednesday compiled information about nearly 400 Catholic clergy members and church staff in Illinois who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct in the state’s six dioceses, including dozens in Chicago.

Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota-based law firm, published the report that included names, background information, work histories and photographs of 395 priests and laypeople accused throughout the state.

Though a seminarian, a teacher and several deacons were on the list, the vast majority were priests.

The law firm said, by its count, hundreds of Illinoisans were the victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of people tied to the church.

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“Those at the top have chosen not to believe so many survivors for so many years who have come forward with reports and have chosen, then, to keep secret not only the identities of those offenders, but [also] those who have been complicit in that concealment at the top,” said Jeff Anderson, the trial attorney who heads the firm that published the report.

List ‘represents the past’

Mary Jane Doerr, the director of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, said at a press conference Wednesday that her office’s efforts to protect children from abuse in the church go “beyond a list of names.”

“What’s frustrating to me is the lists represent the past,” Doerr said. “And it was not a good past, but we don’t do that anymore. That’s not what’s going on today. Today, all allegations are taken seriously.”

Anderson’s report named about 115 clergy members from the Chicago Archdiocese, of which 77 were priests who have been officially recognized by the church as having substantiated abuse claims made against them.

In all, Anderson said that of the 395 people listed statewide, only 192 have been identified by the church as substantiated abusers.

The Archdiocese of Chicago said it releases the names of every priest who has had a substantiated allegation against him and turns over the names of those accused to law enforcement.

A list on the Chicago Archdiocese’s website shows all 77 priests with substantiated allegations were either removed from public ministry or laicized, or have passed away.

The Chicago Archdiocese provided background information Wednesday on another 22 of the 203 people in Anderson’s report who do not appear on the church’s public lists of substantiated abusers.

Two of the 22 are Chicago Archdiocesan priests who have been withdrawn from ministry pending ongoing criminal investigations. Another 10 were dead before the first allegation against them was received. Eight more were cleared after allegations against them were deemed unsubstantiated. One of the final two cases involved the alleged abuse of a person who was not a minor, and the other was a former seminarian who was criminally charged in 1993.

Only one of the 22 priests is still in active ministry in Chicago. Allegations against the priest were investigated and found unsubstantiated by police, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, the Archdiocese said.

The discrepancy between Anderson’s report and the Archdiocese of Chicago’s list was due to the fact that the Chicago Archdiocese doesn’t publish names of priests who are currently under investigation or of those who passed away before allegations were made, said Chicago Archdiocese attorney John O’Malley.

O’Malley took issue with Anderson’s inclusion of men against whom allegations had already been investigated and determined to be unfounded.

“It looks like Anderson is describing someone in [the Chicago priest’s] situation as a perpetrator and I think that’s a problem,” O’Malley said Wednesday. “Police didn’t decide he was a perpetrator. The archdiocese did not. Jeff Anderson did. People are entitled to their reputations until proven otherwise.”

Anderson said his priority was protecting the alleged victims of abuse, not the church.

“It’s not sullying reputations, it’s protecting kids. And we’re going to err on the side of their privacy and the protection of the kids instead of the priests,” Anderson said.

At a news conference held Wednesday in the Loop, Anderson introduced Joe Iocono, whose allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest decades ago in the Chicago Archdiocese were substantiated.

“He was a friend of the family, someone I looked up to,” he said of the Rev. Thomas Kelly, who has since passed away. “I didn’t know what to do. I was 11 years old.”

The Springfield diocese released a statement that offered “sorrow for the shameful wrongs and evils perpetrated during a dark chapter” in the church’s history, but then went on to call Anderson’s report and press conference “an impressive professional marketing brochure.”

“It does not represent, as Mr. Anderson suggests, a thorough and diligent review of the publicly available facts, and it is highly misleading and irresponsible,” the statement read. It also noted that some priests who were already identified by the church as abusers were listed as deceased on the church’s website but as “status unknown” in Anderson’s report.

Anderson said he plans to continue searching for more priests who’ve been accused of sexual abuse in Illinois and will update the list, which is posted on his law firm’s website, in the future.

Contributing: Capitol News Service

Editor’s note: This article was corrected to say Joe Iocono alleged he was abused by a priest in the Chicago Archdiocese.