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New Report Reveals That In Illinois 690 Clergy Have Been Accused Of Sexual Abuse


The Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of clergy sexual abuse in Illinois. That is the conclusion of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Madigan was inspired by Pennsylvania's investigation into clergy sexual abuse. So a few months ago, she began investigating in the Illinois dioceses. Madigan found the Catholic Church withheld the names of at least 500 priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors.


Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke has played a key role in the church's response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. She served as interim chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' study on nationwide clerical sexual abuse back in 2002 as the church was trying to respond to the crisis in Boston. Justice Anne joins us now.


ANNE BURKE: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I want to start by asking just, are you surprised by these revelations in your state, in Illinois?

BURKE: No, not in the least. I think it is a matter that every state has the same issues. And it was just a matter of time. Within the last 15 years, since our report and recommendations to the bishops and the cardinals of what they should do, they just didn't do it. So it was just a matter of time when each state would - you know, all justice is local. So people who are victims were clamoring to have their state's attorney or attorney general to do something - or someone to do something.

KELLY: I want to tease out one of the many details that this report documents. It's a pattern that they found that if there was only one accusation against a priest, that one accusation wasn't deemed credible and so wasn't pursued. Why? I mean, help me understand the culture that makes the church so resistant to investigating.

BURKE: Well, clericalism in the church has been going on for 2,000 years. The bishops in the United States have the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They meet often, they discuss these matters, and they decide what to do at these meetings. And...

KELLY: Right. And as we mentioned, you chaired the study back in...

BURKE: We did.

KELLY: ...2002 that produced the charter that was supposed to fix this problem. Why hasn't it?

BURKE: Because they didn't follow it. They weren't intending to, I think, from the very beginning. Our board knew that it was just a matter of time that this would happen. And quite frankly, I think it's a good thing, finally, that states' attorney generals (ph), like Lisa Madigan and others from Iowa and around the country, have proceeded. There are still credible abuses that are taking place and still covered up as Buffalo showed us just a couple of months ago. That's current. So we have, since 2002 all the way to 2018, abuse being covered up by the Catholic Church and in each diocese.

KELLY: So in your view, the road map to fixing this is out there. It's a question of applying it and actually getting the church and dioceses all over the country to follow it?

BURKE: No. I don't think anything that's done internally can work. Catholics in the United States and other places in the world have absolutely no trust in their hierarchy, in the administration. It has to be through civil authorities. Having laypeople in each diocese review criminal allegations is preposterous. You need to go to the civil authorities. You and I, if we knew of somebody abusing a child, we'd call the police right away to investigate this. Why would you send it to a lay review board in a diocese?

KELLY: If I could make this personal in the few seconds we have left, I have read in articles that describe you as a devout Catholic. And I'm curious...


KELLY: Do you still have faith in church leadership?

BURKE: Oh, not in the leadership. But I do have great faith. I'm more emboldened with my faith now than I ever was. Laypeople are really the church. The hierarchy is supposed to administer it, and they failed. We should be rising up and taking over the church as Catholics in the pews.

KELLY: We'll leave it there. That's Justice Anne Burke, onetime chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the study of child sexual abuse.

Thanks very much for your time.

BURKE: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.