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State probe finds Catholic Church in Illinois vastly underreported clergy sex abuse

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - an investigation finds the Catholic Church in Illinois did the same as in other places. The church failed to report hundreds of clergy members who were accused of sexual abuse. The state attorney general identified almost 2,000 children who were harmed over seven decades. Here's Camryn Cutinello of our member station WBEZ.

CAMRYN CUTINELLO, BYLINE: Illinois' investigation began in late 2018 with a review of documents from all of the state's six Catholic dioceses. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said the list of alleged abusers included more than 450 priests and other clergy members. He says before the investigation, the church had only reported 103.

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KWAME RAOUL: It is my sincere hope that this report will shine light on those who violated their positions of power and trust to abuse innocent children and on the men in church leadership who covered up that abuse.

CUTINELLO: This Illinois investigation is one of several across the country that was sparked in part by an investigation of Catholic priests in Pennsylvania five years ago. Raoul says it was a lengthy process with more than 600 survivors and family members interviewed. Helen Rainforth from central Illinois was one of them. She says members of her church threatened to sue her when she first reported a case of abuse involving a relative in 1997. After that, she spoke with lawyers, police and has even traveled to Rome for help. But she said this report is the first time she's felt validation for the survivors.

HELEN RAINFORTH: I have worked with so many people that have been harmed that the most important thing that they're told is we believe you. We totally believe what you're saying. What this report did was not only affirm the belief. It proved the truth.

CUTINELLO: Chicago's Archbishop Blase Cupich apologized in a statement to anyone harmed and called the abuse repugnant. He added the church began overhauling its policies in 1992 and cooperated with the state's investigation.

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BLASE CUPICH: No cleric with even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

CUTINELLO: Illinois Attorney General Raoul says 330 of the accused clergy have died, and the statute of limitations prevented any prosecution in many of the cases. Part of the report included a number of recommendations, including how to handle any future child sexual abuse allegations at Illinois' Catholic churches.

For NPR News, I'm Camryn Cutinello in Springfield, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camryn Cutinello