Catholic Church in Illinois withheld names of over 500 priests accused of child sex abuse, says Attorney General

Catholic Church in Illinois withheld names of over 500 priests accused of child sex abuse, says Attorney General

THE Catholic Church in the US state of Illinois failed to disclose the identities of hundreds of priests and clergymen accused of child sexual abuse, the state's top prosecutor has said.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her office identified at least 500 Catholic members of clergy in the midwestern state accused of abuse who the Church had never publicly named.

The state's six diocese had previously disclosed the identities of just 185, and many of those cases were not investigated properly or weren't investigated at all.

Madigan made the revelations after the preliminary results of a report she opened in August found that a total of at least 685 priests and clergymen had been accused of abusing children in the state.

In a scathing statement, Madigan said the preliminary stages of her investigation "demonstrated that the Catholic Church cannot police itself".

She added: "By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois.

"The failure to investigate also means that the Catholic Church has never made an effort to determine whether the conduct of the accused priests was ignored or covered up by superiors."

It remains unclear over what period the abuse occurred, but some of the cases date back decades and include accused predator priests who are now deceased.

Madigan began her investigation after a Pennsylvania grand jury report, published in August, claimed that more than 300 priests abused at least 1,000 children over seven decades in Illinois.

Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, expressed his regret over the latest revelations and paid tribute to victims of clerical child sex abuse.

"I want to express again the profound regret of the whole church for our failures to address the scourge of clerical sexual abuse," he said in a statement.

"It is the courage of victim-survivors that has shed purifying light on this dark chapter in Church history. There can be no doubt about the constant need to strengthen our culture of healing, protection, and accountability.

"While the vast majority of abuses took place decades ago, many victim-survivors continue to live with this unimaginable pain."

The investigation comes as the Roman Catholic Church struggles to respond to worldwide allegations of clerical sexual abuse over several decades.

Pope Francis is set to meet with US bishops during a week-long retreat in Chicago next month to agree on how to respond.