If you turned on the news or opened a paper a few weeks ago, you may have seen some jarring headlines about a new report that includes nearly 400 “abuser priests” from the state of Illinois. The news stemmed from a Chicago press conference by Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota-based litigator, who issued his “Anderson Report,” which lists names of accused priests ― names of priests that are already publicly available. So, what was new about his report? Nothing. Unfortunately, the media bought it. Worse, media reports failed to recognize some glaring admissions by Anderson.
First, when asked how many of nearly 400 names he listed are in active ministry, Anderson looked at his board and pointed to one name. One. But that one priest, who is from Chicago, was investigated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and was never charged and the claim was never substantiated. So, the real answer is zero.
It is factually misleading and dishonest to paint today’s church with the same brush as the church of the 1960s and 1970s, when the overwhelming majority of abuse occurred. If you read the headlines after this press conference, however, the media portrays a church that still hasn’t dealt with this issue. That is false. The facts are clear: No priest who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse is ministering in Illinois. Period.
For the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, there has been one substantiated case of sexual misconduct of a minor since 2002. We have also published a website (promise.dio.org) with the names of 19 priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, again none of whom are in active ministry, and 13 of whom are deceased.
For the past two decades in our diocese, when abuse claims are received, civil authorities are notified, and we encourage all victims to notify authorities. We also have an independent Review Board which consists of professionals in backgrounds such as criminal justice, education, law enforcement, psychology, and a victim and survivor of clergy abuse. They review allegations of clergy abuse. A priest is removed immediately and permanently if he is found to have a credible claim against him. While more work needs to be done, it’s clear the church has instituted significant reforms.
It’s wrong for Anderson to say bishops have kept things secret when we report accusations to civil authorities, we have publicly listed priests who have been credibly accused, and every diocese in Illinois worked together for months with the Illinois Attorney General, opening and going over our files. How is that hiding things?
Anderson also admitted during the press conference that in most cases, the allegations have not been found credible by Review Boards or substantiated in a court of law. Even TV news stations blurred out the names on his board that was stationed behind him during the press conference. Priests, much like any of us, have a right to their good name and reputation unless proven otherwise.
It is fair to criticize the church for its historical problems, including how badly some of these issues were handled years ago and the hurt some of our priests and bishops caused to victims. But it is unfair to paint today’s church with this same brush, as if we have failed to change. The facts clearly show a “before and after” difference in the reforms that leaders like our own Bishop Thomas John Paprocki helped to put in place many years ago.