Editor’s note — In full disclosure, Scott Mulford is a former employee of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. He left the Office in May 2014 upon being named editor of Catholic Times.
“The Catholic Church has a moral obligation to provide its parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois.”
So began the Aug. 23 statement by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan in joining Missouri’s and a growing number of state attorneys general seeking information from Catholic dioceses in the wake of the explosive grand jury report in Pennsylvania regarding priests’ misconduct.
According to Madigan, her initial review of the Pennsylvania report found at least seven priests had some tie to Illinois. After the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to meet with her, Madigan turned her sights on the state’s five other dioceses.
“I plan to reach out to the other dioceses in Illinois to have the same conversation and expect the bishops will agree and cooperate fully,” Madigan said. “If not, I will work with states attorneys and law enforcement throughout Illinois to investigate.”
Prior to speaking by telephone with Madigan on Aug. 27, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki had already responded to the attorney general’s request in a statement released Aug. 25.
“ … I certainly agree to speak with her and pledge our diocese’s full cooperation with law enforcement officials to make every available effort to protect our people,” said Bishop Paprocki. “We welcome this opportunity to review the firm commitments we have made and the concrete steps we have taken to protect against clergy misconduct in our diocese. We are also willing to consider any additional actions that would be helpful in making our safe environment program more effective. Information about our diocese’s safe environment program and how to report abuse is available online at www.dio.org/safeenvironment,” he continued.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI), offered his own statement on the inquiries by the attorney general:
“Since 2002, the six Catholic dioceses in Illinois have followed the procedures and protocols of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People established that year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We look forward to working with Attorney General Madigan on these inquiries.”
Late in the day Aug. 27, Madigan intensified her office’s response by launching a so-called “Clergy Abuse Hotline,” to which “anyone in the state of Illinois” could call to report allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Madigan said the hotline would be answered by trained staff in her office. She quickly followed up with an op-ed entitled “Catholic Church must account for every allegation against its priests” published in the (Springfield) State Journal-Register on Aug. 28 in which she said that “None of the bishops have offered to do that.” Madigan later warned, “I can work with states’ attorneys to force the church to produce its records and document all of the crimes children in Illinois suffered.”
Bishop again responds
Bishop Paprocki expressed surprise that what he described as their “cordial” phone conversation of Aug. 27 was met with Madigan’s threat to “work with states’ attorneys … .”
“Despite having pledged our full cooperation, she suggests that law enforcement officials will have to coerce us to do something we refuse to do,” said Bishop Paprocki. “That is simply not the case.”