While researching a bit of context to introduce this week’s newsletter, I came across a column from May 2019 written by Chicago Sun-Times journalist Laura Washington. In it, she writes about the horror she felt as she sat in the pews of her church earlier that year while a representative of the Archdiocese of Chicago informed the congregation that its “beloved pastor” had been accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1979, when he was at another parish.
“I sat in the pew in stunned silence,” Washington wrote, adding: “The headlines of rampant abuse and cover-ups in the church are horrific enough. This was surreal.”
Illinois is home to six Catholic dioceses; the Chicago Archdiocese is the third-largest in the U.S. They are among many dioceses across the nation that have released names of priests currently or formerly in their ranks who they have deemed to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse or misconduct. Those lists had not been aggregated in one place, however. That changed this week, as my ProPublica colleagues released a searchable database of this information, which also functions as a sort of priest tracker, since parishes have sometimes transferred accused clergy elsewhere.
What’s not included on this list is perhaps just as telling as what is. In Illinois, many dioceses failed to provide important information. The Archdiocese of Chicago, serving a Catholic population of 2,180,000, did not include assignment histories, which tell you in which parishes the individual served and when. The archdiocese also lists only 78 clergy names. An investigation by former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan found in 2018 that 690 clergy members among Illinois dioceses have been accused of sexually abusing minors — though the cases “frequently have not been adequately investigated by the dioceses or not investigated at all.” Various Illinois archdioceses disputed parts of the report.
The Diocese of Belleville, which serves a Catholic population of 124,280, also failed to release assignment histories for the 17 clergy members listed. So did the Diocese of Springfield, which lists 21 names. Two other groups, the St. Thomas Syro Malabar Diocese of Chicago and St. Nicholas of Chicago for Ukrainians, did not release any information at all.
Still, as ProPublica’s president, Dick Tofel, wrote in his Not Shutting Up newsletter this week, our “Credibly Accused” database can be a powerful tool for survivors of sexual abuse. Not only could finding a clergy member’s name and information in the database help validate an individual’s experience, it could help place the “burden of shame and self-blame to the perpetrator, where it belongs,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks allegations of clergy abuse and seeks to hold priests accountable.