CHICAGO (CNS) — Attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented clergy abuse victims nationwide, filed a lawsuit Oct. 18 in Chicago against all six Catholic dioceses in Illinois and the Illinois Catholic Conference for what he described as an ongoing effort to cover up clergy sexual abuse.
The lawsuit wants the state’s dioceses to release all of their records on abusive priests.
Anderson filed the suit along with three others who said they were sexually abused by priests. The lawsuit does not seek damages and only claims instances of abuse against children in three of the Illinois dioceses — Rockford, Peoria and Springfield — but according to Anderson, all of the dioceses have had a role in covering up clergy sexual abuse. The claims of abuse cited date from the early 1970s through the late 1990s.
The attorney, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, said in Oct. 18 remarks that he wants the dioceses to release the names of all priests, living and dead, accused of child molestation. He referred to a similar lawsuit filed in Minnesota where the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had to add names to its already public list of credibly accused priests.
Anderson’s lawsuit says some dioceses have made public some information about priests but not all of them. For example, he said the Belleville and Rockford dioceses have not named 53 priests accused of abusing children since 1950.
All of the dioceses issued statements in response to the lawsuit.
The Diocese of Springfield said the lawsuit “visibly displayed the emotional and physical harm and long-suffering of victims of abuse by clergy, reminding us all of the vigilance and urgency with which we need to treat the issue of abuse by clergy.”
But the statement also said the lawsuit claims that the diocese “failed to acknowledge this evil, seeking to hide claims of abuse in secrecy and protecting the abusers” is false.
It said a specific case in the lawsuit that involved the Diocese of Springfield was “thoroughly investigated and reported to civil authorities.”
It also said that beyond this case, the diocese has already been working cooperatively with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to respond to requests for information relating to past and present practices of handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors.
The diocese also said the lawsuit “personally accused” Springfield Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of negligence “and grossly mischaracterized his view of the evil nature of abuse cases.”
“Bishop Paprocki has repeatedly acknowledged that the horrible acts of abuse and the negligence with which some leaders have handled them, are evil. He reiterates this point of view today, saying: ‘To see the pain and suffering of victims of abuse and the scandal they have created for all the faithful and to fail to see the work of the devil in it is to be blind to the full force of evil being inflicted.'”
A statement from the Peoria Diocese said diocesan officials had not had the opportunity to review all the details of the lawsuit but wished to clarify some of Anderson’s statements, particularly that Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky had ignored some claims made about allegations of abuse by diocesan priests.
Anderson said that one priest accused of abuse maintains faculties with the diocese, but the diocesan statement said it announced in 2002 that this priest was removed from all public ministries.
Regarding another diocesan priest named in the lawsuit, the diocese said that after it was made aware of allegations against him it immediately placed the priest on leave and reported the allegation to police. The priest was reinstated in ministry after the police concluded its investigation and the diocesan review board found the allegation unsubstantiated.
The Archdiocese of Chicago’s statement said officials had not reviewed the lawsuit in full but that the diocese has taken significant steps to address clergy sex abuse and had posted the names of priests who have been credibly accused of this on its website.
The Diocese of Rockford’s statement said it was working in full cooperation with the Illinois state attorney general’s office inquiry into the handling of childhood sex abuse claims against clergy, and the Diocese of Belleville responded to the suit by publishing a list of names of priest currently removed from ministry because of credible abuse claims.
The Joliet Diocese said it is similarly cooperating fully with state attorney general in its inquiry. In its statement, the diocese disputed the lawsuit’s suggestion that it is withholding information, noting that since 2006 it has kept on its website a list of “living and deceased diocesan priests who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.”
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