The state's top prosecutor said 451 clergy in Illinois had sexually abused 1,997 children since 1950. The church had acknowledged only 103 individual abusers before the start of the investigation in 2018. Nearly every survivor interviewed struggled with mental health issues after being abused, the report said.
Several U.S. states launched investigations into Catholic sexual abuse after a Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018 found that 300 priests had abused more than 1,000 children over a period of 70 years.
The nearly 700-page report released by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Tuesday includes dozens of harrowing stories of rape and sexual abuse, and details how allegations were ignored and abusers were shifted from church to church.
The archbishop of Chicago said he had not studied the new report in detail but took issue with how the statistics were presented, saying "it isn't fair or wise to focus only on the Catholic Church."
In a statement, Cardinal Blase J Cupich apologised to the survivors and pledged that the church would root out abusers and continue to investigate allegations.
"I am personally committed to applying the highest level of vigilance to these efforts and to further strengthening our safeguards against abuse," he said.
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Much of the report is dedicated to individual accounts of sexual abuse and lists of clergy accused of child sexual abuse.
One Chicago priest, Father Daniel McCormack, was called "one of the most infamous child abusers anywhere in Illinois." Complaints against McCormack go back to his training period as a priest in the late 1980s. Church officials later admitted that he should have been removed from a seminary and never allowed to become a priest.
Instead, McCormack was placed in several parishes and held teaching and coaching positions in several mostly African-American neighbourhoods on Chicago's west side throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
After numerous complaints and two arrests, he pleaded guilty to abusing five young boys and was sentenced to five years in prison in 2007. The report also includes testimony from survivors.
One survivor summed up the church's response to his reports of abuse by saying: "They had a chance to make things right, but they did everything wrong."
Victim advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (Snap) said the report demonstrated that church policies are "weak, vague, and rarely followed."
The group called for further state and local investigations, the renaming of all church buildings and schools that were named after abusers, and for memorials in honour of survivors.
"This is a vindication of the people who have been hurt, the survivors who have been whoa have been ignored and lied to," said Snap Chicago leader Larry Antonsen. "Hopefully it will give other survivors the courage to stand up and tell their stories."
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