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Illinois dioceses tolerated decades of abuse by clergy, report finds

By Tyler Clifford

(Reuters) - Some 2,000 Illinois children were sexually abused by Roman Catholic clergy between the 1950s and 2010s, the state attorney general said in a report released on Tuesday that also detailed how abuse was often tolerated and concealed by Church leaders.

The 696-page report, released by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, substantiated claims of abuse made against 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers in the state's six dioceses. At least 1,997 children were sexually abused over the past seven decades, the report said.

The report published for the first time the names of 149 clergy and religious brothers who it said had been the subject of credible allegations of sexual abuse.

It was initiated in 2018 by Raoul's predecessor Lisa Madigan, who accused the Church of underreporting cases when it initially identified 103 abusers among its ranks.

The report joins a long list of investigations across the world into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and the frequent practice of covering up for abusers and transferring them to new assignments, thereby putting more children at risk.

The abuse scandals have shredded the Church's reputation and been a major challenge for Pope Francis, who has passed a series of measures over the last 10 years aimed at holding the Church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results.

"Decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child-sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight," Raoul said.

In Illinois, investigators said they pored over thousands of files, conducted hours of interviews with leaders and fielded more than 600 victim complaints.

Many of the people who were abused cannot seek legal remedies due to the statute of limitations on crimes committed in some cases decades ago, Raoul said. The report in part was undertaken to bring some relief to victims, who he characterized as "survivors."

In a statement, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, sought to blunt criticism that the Church had failed to disclose the names of the abusers identified in the report. He said most of the 149 were members of religious orders that were not under direct supervision by dioceses.

"Survivors will forever be in our prayers, and we have devoted ourselves to rooting out this problem and providing healing to victims," Cupich said.

About 3.5 million Catholics lived in Illinois as of 2019, according to the Catholic Conference of Illinois, making up 27% of the state's population. The state's dioceses included about 950 parishes and more than 2,200 priests.

(Reporting by Tyler Clifford, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)