With frequent revelations of Catholic sex crimes against children in the news, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s new billboard message in Chicago could not be timelier.
Stating “Value children over dogma,” FFRF’s display, depicting a uniformed little girl with her hands in her face, urges: “It’s time to leave the Catholic Church.”
The billboard can be found on the Kennedy Expressway (Interstate 90/94) west of Montrose in Chicago. The compelling message is underwritten by an FFRF member using settlement money he received from his diocese after being molested by a priest at the age of 13. It went up on Feb. 18 for a month.
In December, the Illinois attorney general announced that the Catholic Church had not yet identified more than 690 priests accused of sexual abuse. Catholic officials publicly referenced only 185 clergy with credible allegations against them. Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a preliminary report critical of the lack of transparency and flawed investigations by six Catholic dioceses in Illinois.
Shockwaves had been created a few months prior to this due to a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that documented in August more than 300 “predator priests” credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children. In an apparent attempt at damage control, several dioceses since then have been self-reporting figures about predator priests.
Recent revelations about sexual assaults against children by Catholic officials include:
- The Roman Catholic diocese of Brooklyn, one of the largest in the nation, revealed last weekend that more than 100 priests had been accused of sexually abusing a child.
- Also last weekend, Pope Francis defrocked Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, D.C., after the Vatican said he’d been tried and found guilty of several crimes, including soliciting sex during confession and “sins” with minors and with adults.
- The Roman Catholic Church in Texas released names in late January of almost 300 priests it said had been credibly accused of child sex crimes over nearly eight decades.
- New Jersey’s five dioceses on Feb. 13 released the names of nearly 200 priests and deacons accused of sexually abusing children.
- On Jan. 28, the Vatican official who handles sexual abuse cases for the Catholic Church quit after being accused himself of sexual abuse.
- Last week, Pope Francis acknowledged that nuns have suffered sexual abuse by priests, and news articles have recently appeared about pedophile nuns.
“It’s hard to keep up with the headlines,” notes FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor, who wrote the first nonfiction book about clergy abuse of children, published by FFRF in 1988. FFRF has tracked what it calls “black collar crimes” since the late 1980s in its newspaper, Freethought Today.
FFRF urged Chicago Reader patrons to “Stop ignoring the headlines” and leave the church in a Jan. 31 full-page ad, which the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times had refused to run. Gaylor said the Catholic Church remains a “virtuoso” in silencing its critics and its victims. “What a shame to see the media muzzle them, too.”
FFRF plans to take its new billboard message around the nation as its advertising funds permit.