ProPublica has released the most comprehensive list to date of Catholic clergy “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. (Shutterstock)
ILLINOIS — The journalism site ProPublica, a Patch Partner, has compiled the most comprehensive list so far of Catholic clergy "credibly accused" of sexual abuse. The list includes many accused abusers from Illinois.
The searchable database includes hundreds of priests accused from the Archdiocese of Chicago and dioceses of Joliet, Rockford, Peoria, Belleville and Springfield.
In Illinois, the ProPublica database includes:
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(Click on the name of the diocese to see the full database)
• 78 credibly accused of abuse in the Archdiocese of Chicago
• 44 credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Joliet
• 18 credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Rockford
• 37 credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Peoria
• 21 credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Springfield
• 17 credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Belleville
Along with the list, ProPublica outlines the challenges of identifying offenders long after such widespread abuse became known.
While the lists released by dioceses in Illinois include 215 credibly accused priests, a law firm representing victims of sexual abuse released a list last spring naming 400 priests accused of abuse.
Among the priests named by the six Catholic diocese sin Illinois include a priest who leaped from the balcony of an abandoned church in Joliet in an apparent suicide attempt after he was accused of molesting a child. The now former priest, who survived the attempt, was deported back to Bolivia after pleading guilty to abusing a 7-year-old boy while he was a seminarian.
Other accused clergy include a former Chicago Heights priest who was charged with possession of child pornography in 2015 while he was serving at a Chicago parish, a former Oak Forest priest whose accusations of abuse of young boys in 1979 later sparked a lawsuit and caused the Archdiocese to hire a public relations/crisis communications firm, and a man who was sent to a Homewood church as priest-in-residence after he had been removed from office amid allegations he sexually abused boys in Chicago.
Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks.
The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation.
Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.
But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgment of victims' suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused.
ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country.
Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.
Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who helped establish a new set of child protection protocols within the USCCB [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] in the early 2000s, has urged bishops and religious orders for nearly two decades to create a comprehensive list of accused clergy. She said our database will allow the public to better track dioceses' disclosures, rather than seeing each list in isolation.
"People don't know where to look," McChesney said. "The contribution of the one list will help a lot of people to perhaps identify someone that they believe abused them."
Still, much crucial information remains missing. Despite the recent surge of releases, 41 dioceses and dozens more religious orders have yet to publish lists, including five of seven dioceses in Florida, home to more than 2 million Catholics.