Bishop Accountability
 
  Church Confesses Abuse by Priests
Iowa Dioceses Record Settlements in Several Molestation Cases

By Lee Rood
Des Moines Register
March 8, 2002

Roman Catholic Church officials this week acknowledged paying out-of-court settlements and disciplining a small number of Iowa priests in previously unpublicized sex-abuse cases.

The disclosures come amid a national scandal that has touched dioceses across the country.

In Sioux City, diocese officials disclosed for the first time that they had forced the retirement of a priest accused of repeatedly molesting three children. The Rev. George McFadden, now 78, served six western Iowa parishes from 1953 to 1992.

McFadden was sent to Maryland for treatment after the first of the allegations was made in 1991 and immediately was removed from parish ministry, Bishop Daniel DiNardo said.

"The incidents were not reported to police," DiNardo said. "Part of the reason was because it was so long after the events took place."

Church representatives said this week that in light of national publicity about sex-abuse cases, at least two of the state's four dioceses are reviewing sexual misconduct policies.

"I think people have a right to know that children are safe," said Tom Chapman, spokesman for the Des Moines diocese. "I really do believe in my heart that the church is doing as much as any organization to protect children."

The revelation about McFadden aggravated already deep wounds for Daniel Nash, a 43-year-old Jefferson native who alleges he was molested at least 30 times when McFadden served at St. Joseph Parish from 1969 to 1972.

McFadden, who is said to live in a Sioux City apartment complex with other retired priests, could not be reached for comment. Church officials said McFadden does not recall the abuse of Nash, although he does not deny that it likely took place.

Nash, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, said by telephone that he has been deeply disturbed since the incidents and has attempted suicide because he still feels so betrayed.

"I wake up with this. I sleep with it. I dream it," said Nash, who now lives in Ithaca, N.Y., with his wife and son. "You just don't know how alone you are on something like this. I've prayed my heart out, but it's not gone."

Nash joins a growing list of victims nationwide who allege the church initially covered up sexual misconduct by priests or failed to take appropriate action when their stories were first reported.

Since allegations surfaced earlier this year that scores of children have been sexually abused by priests in Boston, U.S. bishops have suspended or forced the resignation of at least 26 priests among the more than 47,000 nationwide, The Associated Press reported.

The Rev. Jim Kirby, minister of Dowling High School's 1,200-student campus in West Des Moines, said the sins of relatively few men of the cloth have done great harm to the majority of priests who are trustworthy men.

"I think the church needs to deal with this," Kirby said. "If there's a problem, they've got to get these guys out. It angers me that I have to be put in a vulnerable position because some priests have chosen to do this for whatever reason."

No lawsuits are believed to be pending against any Iowa dioceses or church officials, spokesmen said. However, each of the state's four dioceses has dealt with allegations in the past decade. As has been true elsewhere around the country, most of the allegations came years after the alleged events took place.

Previous cases in the Iowa dioceses include:

* Two settlements in the past five years in the Des Moines diocese, which has 107 priests. The cases involved allegations that were more than 25 years old, spokesman Chapman said.

One of the settlements involved Monsignor Francis Zuch, who died in 1993 at the age of 94, Chapman said. Former altar boys Timothy Lynch and Joseph Duff sued the Basilica of St. John parish and the diocese, alleging they had been repeatedly molested from 1970 to 1973.

The second settlement was made following allegations made against a priest who is no longer with the diocese, Chapman said. The priest's name was not disclosed. He is no longer assigned to a ministry, Chapman said.

* In the Davenport diocese, the state's largest with 154 priests, two women sued then-Bishop Gerald O'Keefe in 1992 for allegedly sexually abusing them in the 1960s. O'Keefe was an auxiliary bishop of the St. Paul-Minneapolis diocese at the time.

The women's attorney said therapy had revived their repressed memories of abuse.

"The accusations were withdrawn, and he's now died," said David Montgomery, a spokesman for the diocese. "There have been no active priests that have been involved in this since Bishop O'Keefe."

* In the Dubuque diocese, the Rev. Michael C. Fitzgerald, former pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Marion, was accused in 1999 of taking part in an inappropriate chat on the Internet with a person he thought was a 13-year-old boy. The person was an adult member of an Internet child advocacy group.

Fitzgerald was relieved of his duties and sent to therapy for sexual misconduct. No criminal charges were filed. Fitzgerald died in a car crash in 2000.

Also in Dubuque, the Rev. Tim Devenney served roughly three years in prison after being accused of fondling several boys in the mid-1990s. An associate pastor at St. Columbkille Catholic Church, he was convicted of eight counts of lascivious acts with a child and four counts of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse.

"He is now in a halfway house out East," Vicar General James Barta said. "He will not ever return to priestly functions."

* Also in the Sioux City diocese, the Rev. Gerald Hartz resigned in 1995 after he was accused of improperly touching a 13-year-old girl. Hertz was a pastor at St. Lawrence Church in Carroll. The charges were dropped when the girl and her family were unwilling to take part in a trial.

The Roman Catholic Church has no uniform policy dealing with sex abuse, and different dioceses' policies call for varying degrees of reporting and openness when such cases come to light. Some dioceses require all employees to sign a statement affirming they have had had no indecent contact with minors or vulnerable adults, and immediate police notification when allegations occur. Others do not.

Monsignor Mark Duchaine said one problem in handling Nash's case was that church officials did not follow the diocese's policy when Nash first made allegations in 1996. Because there was no formal investigation, he said, church officials were never able to determine what actually happened.

Duchaine said the diocese eventually paid for roughly $3,200 in treatment and other costs for Nash, but stopped paying after Nash refused to provide the church more medical records. He and others in the diocese said they needed to determine the church's liability in the matter, as they were aware Nash had other problems as well.

"In other words, we needed to determine how much of the damage in Mr. Nash's life was caused by the alleged abuse of Father McFadden," Duchaine said.

Nash said he did not release the information under the advice of his mental health providers. Like other victims, he said, he was particularly vulnerable as a boy. Nearly blind and dyslexic, he was an altar boy and occasional custodian at the church from the fourth through seventh grades. He alleges that McFadden began to grab him from behind and touch him and that the assaults grew with intensity over time.

Eventually, he said, the priest sexually assaulted him numerous times and masturbated in his presence in his rectory.

Crying, Nash described one particularly memorable incident in which he said he tried to flee the priest. He said McFadden chased him and he was stopped by the priest's German shepherd, who barked in his face.

Duchaine said the church would still like to help Nash if he would provide officials with more information.

Nash, who acknowledges drug use and past alcohol abuse, said he no longer trusts the Catholic Church.

"It's a struggle just to live," he said. "I've been betrayed by so many people, I don't dare open my mouth anymore."

 
 

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