Survivors of Clergy Abuse in Illinois Have Waited for Too Long. Legislative Reform May be Imminent

Last month, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul released a scathing 696-page report about child sexual abuse and cover-up in the six Catholic Dioceses across the state. The findings were stunning: bishops knew about abusive clerics for decades and did little to nothing to protect the children in their care. Instead, bishops (some of whom were predators themselves) moved, promoted, and protected alleged child abusers, leaving children in harm’s way for decades.

The report was extensive and met with praise from survivors and advocates. Unlike a similar report released in Maryland in April, where Identities of abusive clerics and most enablers were redacted, the Illinois report pulled no punches: abusive clerics were named, bishops were exposed, and the real danger was made clear.

Since the report’s release, bishops have groveled for forgiveness, citing “past errors” and “misunderstanding” about the effects of abuse. They said they were “saddened” and “disturbed,” even though the information in the report was available to them all along. Unfortunately for survivors, this is too little, too late.

What’s next?

In his press conference announcing the report’s release, Raoul would not comment on statute of limitation reform. The report, however, did recommend that the dioceses implement “independent compensation funds,” as we have seen in New York, New Jersey, California, and Colorado. While we understand why the attorney general recommended such programs, we know from experience two things. First, these programs don’t expose abusers, and second, the programs allow Church officials to keep their secrets hidden.

The compensation fund programs, to date, have not required that church officials publicly name the credibly accused or turn over evidence to authorities or victims. The programs require survivors to turn over private information about themselves and the harm they suffered, and then ask those same survivors to blindly accept an offer of compensation without ever seeing evidence of the church’s liability. The reality is that the secretive programs, which are conducted without any survivor access to information, allow the church to claim they are committed to fixing the problem while at the same time continuing the status quo of keeping secrets and covering up.

Frankly, the programs are flawed. Perhaps dangerous.

So, what does work? The answer is strong statute of limitation reform. States such as California, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and others have shown that changing the civil laws to allow survivors to use the civil courts is the best way to complete two critical things: provide survivors a chance at accountability, and protect children from abusers by holding institutions accountability for their failures.

Maryland has shown that these laws do not have to have a “sunset date.” Unlike other states that have opened so-called “civil windows” that expire after a certain period, Maryland’s 2023 Child Victims Act is open for perpetuity, allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to come forward when they are ready, and on their terms.

So, what about Illinois?

The Illinois General Assembly is in session each year from January until May. Lawmakers have been watching the Attorney General Report closely, and we are confident will be weighing options to help survivors obtain justice and expose perpetrators. There’s no reason lawmakers in Illinois can’t take the same action to help survivors and protect children that so many other states have already done through statute of limitation reform.

How can you help?

That’s where you come in. Legislators only know there is a need for statute of limitation reform when people reach out and demand victim-friendly legislation. Reach out to state lawmakers and let them know that church officials should not get off with a slap on the wrist. Predators should not get a “free pass” because they hid behind archaic laws and layers of church protection. Tell them that legislative reform should apply to all survivors, including those abused in public institutions and families.

Together, we can help transform child protection in the state of Illinois.