Attorney: Illinois Diocese new sexual abuse procedures ‘50 years too late’

23 News at Noon
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 10:39 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - “Decades too late.” That’s how one person describes the recent efforts from the six Illinois Catholic Dioceses to streamline their process for handling allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy.

These new procedures are meant to give people a better understanding of how the diocese will handle allegations of sexual abuse, but survivors and advocates say church leaders need to do more.

Marc Pearlman is an attorney who represents survivors of sexual abuse in Illinois. He’s covered hundreds of cases; he says nearly 90% of those involve one of the six Illinois dioceses.

“The catholic church is arguably more responsible for more child sex abuse than any institution in the world,” says Pearlman. “Rockford has a notable history of child sex abuse and equally bad, if not worse, is the cover-up of that sex abuse.”

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office was first made aware of priests allegedly sexually abusing minors in 2018 when a lawsuit was filed. But Pearlman says these accusations go back nearly 50 years.

“They have survivors for the first time feeling like it is safe to come forward and speak the truth by what happened to them.”

A scathing report from a Minnesota law firm in 2019 revealed nearly 400 men working under the Illinois diocese were connected to those allegations. 25 of those men had ties to the Diocese of Rockford.

“It’s one-on-one meetings with the priest, right after mass. I’ve had cases where their parents were in another room 50 feet away.”

In anticipation of a report from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the diocese releases a list of procedures Thursday on how it will address related incidents moving forward:

  • The diocesan website publication of the names of its clerics credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.
  • Policies for handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors against clerics incardinated in their dioceses.
  • Diocesan policies for handling such allegations against deceased, laicized and religious order priests.
  • Processes for dealing with allegations that arise during criminal investigations or civil lawsuits.

“Now that everyone knows what’s been happening, they have no choice,” says Pearlman. “It’s five years too late. It’s like 50 years too late.”

The Rockford Diocese recommends those who want to file a sexual abuse claim should contact DCFS if needed, the diocese itself and your local police department.

23 News reached out to the Rockford Diocese for comment but they told us they weren’t available.