Recent years of investigation continue to reveal how abuse in the Catholic church has for years been one of its worst-kept secrets. Shockingly enough, many people know about it – or at least suspect it – but little action has historically been taken.
This was largely due to the church’s policies over the past few decades. These policies protected priests and other church personnel, putting the church’s good name, and the individual careers of its clergy above the safety of children.
Fortunately, the tides are beginning to turn as the sheer number of victims coming forward has overwhelmed the church and forced the public to pay attention.
Abuse Accusations from Years Past Revealed
In 2001, the Catholic church adopted a decree that forbade church officials from revealing and sharing information about sexual abuse in the church to civil authorities. This led to years of sexual and other abuses in the church, while police and judges could do nothing about it.
Often times, young children – boys in particular – would be abused for years. They would turn to somebody else in the church to confide in, a blind eye was turned.
This happened to one Chicago boy who was sent to a school affiliated with the Catholic church. His alleged abuser was a priest, whom he trusted and confided in when he had no one else.
The priest took advantage of the young boy’s trust and exacted lasting damage. When the boy first tried to report the abuse to an adult at the school, he was not taken seriously.
Now the Archdiocese in Chicago is Feeling the Heat
In Chicago alone, there have been more than 160 victims who have come forward, accusing the Archdiocese of Chicago of abuse.
Many of these accusations date back to 2001 when the Vatican initiated its secrecy decree. Some go back even decades before. The Archdiocese of Chicago has paid out $220 million in claims to victims already, and that number is expected to continue climbing.
Changes in the Catholic Church
Fortunately, in 2019 the Pope reversed the secrecy decree, allowing church officials to cooperate in investigations and voluntarily go to the authorities with information about suspected abuse.
This means that now, all documents and evidence related to abuse claims can be shared with civil authorities. The Pope has also mandated that all church officials report any suspected abuse to their church elders.
The Pope also has met regularly with church officials to identify additional ways victims can be made whole, and future children can be protected.
Helping Illinois Victims Come Forward
In Chicago, members of the clergy are listed as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. This fact, combined with the changes the church is making, should help protect more children and others from priests, pastors, rabbis, and all other religious officials.
Additionally, the statute of limitations for civil cases has been eased, allowing victims to bring suit within 10 years that the abuse is discovered by the victim. It is very common for victims to not realize or acknowledge that what happened to them years ago was abuse. Once this realization is made, that is when the statute of limitations begins.
These changes should make it much easier for victims to come forward with information about their abuse. We can only watch and see whether these measures are effective enough in combatting and ending this long-lived pattern of abuse.
Another benefit of coming forward is that even if the abuser has been removed from the church or is deceased, victims can still seek compensation. It’s a difficult decision to make and one that should not be taken lightly, but if you were ever a victim of the clergy in Chicago or elsewhere, know that the law and the public are now on your side.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.