Editorial: Attorney general's report on Catholic clergy child sex abuse lays out a shameful chapter in Illinois history

The Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Religious News

The Illinois attorney general’s gut-wrenching 696-page report on Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Illinois is illustrated, incongruously but perhaps necessarily, with aspirational images of the Prairie State: cornfields at sunrise, the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan, sunsets over lakes and barns, gorgeous stained glass windows.

But the text, which is agonizing reading, reveals a much uglier side of Illinois.

It lists the names and circumstances surrounding 451 Catholic clerics and religious brothers who the report says abused at least 1,997 children across the state’s dioceses. And, in the words of Attorney General Kwame Raoul, it charges that “decades of Catholic leadership decisions and policies have allowed known child sex abusers to hide, often in plain sight.”

So many abusers are listed in the report that it is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the shameful history revealed. Unspeakable pain was caused to survivors who, the report also notes, are more likely to struggle with their mental and physical health, more at risk of falling into alcoholism or other forms of substance abuse and who may find it harder to pursue their chosen professional lives.

But one stunning case is illustrative.

On page 64, the report discusses Father Daniel McCormack, whom it deems “one of the most notorious child sex abusers in the history of Illinois.” McCormack, the report alleges, was a known sexual abuser during his seminary days in the 1980s but that did not stop the church from appointing him as a diocesan priest, giving him yet more access to victims.


In 1999, a boy reported McCormack to a nun but she was told by a superior, “if the parents aren’t pushing it, let it go.” McCormack continued his evil trajectory, but the Archdiocese of Chicago ignored another complaint by a boy’s grandmother.

In 2005, he was even arrested on charges of abuse but, incredibly, still left in the ministry, albeit with monitoring that proved ineffectual. And that was some three years after the Boston Globe published its famous investigative series on abuses within the Catholic Church in that city.

In Illinois, it appears, no one was reading the news.

The McCormack saga did not end there. He was arrested in 2006 on five charges of abusing boys between 8 and 12 years old and finally was sent to prison. The report notes that the archdiocese received 104 claims of McCormack sexually abusing children after the archdiocese first received (and basically ignored) that 1999 notice of what the priest was doing.


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