Church Secrecy on Iowa Priest Assailed

By Lee Rood
Des Moines Register
June 23, 2002

[See below for a list of McFadden's assignments.]

Sioux City, Ia. -When the national furor over priestly misconduct washed up in Sioux City this spring, the diocese had reassuring words for a concerned and increasingly wary public:

The Rev. George McFadden, who had been pastor to a half-dozen Roman Catholic parishes in northwest Iowa, was forcibly retired in 1992, immediately after the first allegations of sexual abuse were made against him.

What diocese officials didn't acknowledge publicly until last week upsets the people who continue to come forward with allegations against the priest -the most so far targeting an Iowa clergyman.

Despite his 1992 retirement, McFadden wasn't suspended formally until this year. The confessed child molester continued to hear confession and say Mass daily over the past decade at the Cathedral of the Epiphany, Sioux City's largest Catholic church.

"In retrospect, as we look back, we would say that even that limited activity . . . is not indicated for someone who has abused minors," Sioux City Bishop Daniel L. DiNardo said in an interview with the Des Moines Sunday Register. "I can only say that it was wrong."

As dioceses across the country struggle to implement a controversial new policy that aims to restore faith in the priesthood, DiNardo and other bishops are being forced to unearth secrets, allegations and decisions made years ago, when the ethos of the Catholic Church was dramatically different.

The church's handling of widening revelations promises to test its hierarchy's vow to be more forthright. DiNardo concedes the new challenges make for an "extremely emotional, draining time."

Two mothers of McFadden's alleged victims -one, a former Sioux City man who committed suicide in 1984 -said last week they told priests that their children had been abused before McFadden was spirited into treatment in 1992.

The diocese emphatically denies receiving such information, but the new revelations have fed suspicion among the alleged victims and their families over what else church leaders may be hiding.

"I think they all knew, and I think the church is covering it up," said Mary Ankenbrand of Ralston, Neb., who claims McFadden molested her and at least two of her siblings in the late 1960s. "We thought those who were our shepherds would take care of us. Now we know that we were wrong."

In the wake of this month's bishops conference in Dallas, Texas, DiNardo said, the cases of at least two more priests within the diocese, one deceased and one retired, now must be re-examined. A reconfigured sex-abuse advisory board -this time composed mostly of lay people -also will have to review the seven sex-abuse allegations now lodged against McFadden.

"There is a great deal we are doing," DiNardo said. "It is very important and time-consuming. Obviously, the most crucial will be dealing with victims."

For some people, however, the church's contrition comes too late.

Phil Boyok, a former Sioux City altar boy, said he, a brother and several friends were sexually assaulted as teen-agers by McFadden at Sioux City's now-defunct St. Francis of Assisi's parish. In allowing the now 79-year-old priest to keep his clerical collar, Boyok said, the diocese has slapped in the face those who suffered at the hands of McFadden.

Past and present bishops protected the clergyman, and for years allowed him to administer the sacraments even after he had confessed his sins as a sex abuser.

"They keep calling him Father McFadden," Boyok said. "What kind of father does this to his children?"

To Boyok and some other Iowa Catholics, the priest is a sexual predator who should be behind bars. "The diocese should take all the money they're paying him and distribute it to his victims," Boyok said. "We haven't filed any lawsuits because we know any money we would win would come from our community. If it were McFadden's money, I'd take it gladly."

Although the statute of limitations on sex crimes in Iowa has expired for McFadden's alleged assaults, Boyok and other alleged victims from St. Francis would like a more thorough investigation into what church leaders knew of the abuse.

In a statement last week, diocese officials reiterated that they never had a "single, solitary complaint about misconduct on the part of Father McFadden relating to his tenure at St. Francis until October of 2001 -10 years after he had been moved to retirement."

"Let us repeat this clear message," the statement read. "The Diocese of Sioux City is deeply sorry if a priest of the diocese has abused anyone. We encourage victims to come forward and tell us what happened."

According to Ceil Sokolowski, Ankenbrand's mother, and other parents, McFadden endeared himself to many of the youngsters within their parish and school, giving children candy and letting teen-agers drive his car, before eventually coaxing them to his rectory.

Sokolowski said that shortly after the distraught son of a close friend, a former St. Francis parishioner, killed himself on May 27, 1984, three of her four grown children confided that they had been molested by the priest.

The friend's son, Sokolowski said, had been receiving ongoing counseling from a diocesan priest because of his molestation by McFadden.

Contacted by the Register, the suicide victim's mother said she did not wish to speak publicly about her son's death. She confirmed, however, that her family told a parish priest in 1984 that they did not want McFadden to help preside over her son's funeral. The priest, she said, knew it was because of the abuse of her son.

(The parish priest, the diocese says, denies he was told of the abuse.)

Sokolowski said she also spoke to two priests in the years between 1984 and 1991. A devout Catholic and close friend of McFadden's who routinely cleaned his rectory, she said she was devastated when she learned the priest used his closeness to her family to prey on her children.

The priest, she said, asked her to count the parish's weekly youth collection and then encouraged her to send her daughters to deliver the money to his rectory.

"When they told us, my husband just started to cry," Sokolowski said. "I couldn't cry. I was angry."

Sokolowski said her fourth child, who was very close to McFadden, detests the Catholic Church now and has thus far been unwilling to discuss whether abuse occurred.

Even when children of St. Francis did come forward, some parents didn't believe them.

Chester Jablonski said at the age of 7, his youngest son tried to tell him he was being hurt, but "we wouldn't listen to him, like everyone else."

Looking back, the 78-year-old father of three said, "it was just terrible. All that time, we thought Father McFadden was the best priest we ever had."

Nonetheless, Jablonski said, "the whole parish would have condemned me if I would have said something."

That's what Daniel Nash, a 43-year-old from Ithaca, N.Y., said happened to him in 1996, after he first exposed the abuse he endured to the diocese and family members in Jefferson. The deeply troubled former altar boy said he was ostracized after he spoke of the repeated molestations he suffered as a teen-ager.

Since the Register's first article about Nash in March, the newspaper has learned of at least 20 other alleged victims from Le Mars, Sioux City and Jefferson.

Several of them have declined to speak publicly, saying either that they have put the abuse behind them or that talking about it would embarrass relatives still living in Iowa.

Others, such as Ankenbrand, said they had been afraid to come forward until Nash described the torment he felt trying to expose a beloved hometown priest.

"It just breaks my heart, and the thing that breaks my heart the most is Mr. Nash," Ankenbrand said. "Maybe if it comes out about what happened at St. Francis, the people of Jefferson will realize that it wasn't just one person."

Until recently, McFadden had been living in the Sioux City area under the supervision of local priests. This week, however, DiNardo acknowledged that the Iowa native had moved out of state. He is being supervised appropriately under the guidance of his original treatment provider, the bishop said.

"We're not disclosing where he is," he said. "He is with family members."

McFadden continues to receive a pension from the diocese and has not been formally defrocked, DiNardo said. Under the new charter, the diocese's sex-abuse advisory panel must investigate before determining whether McFadden will be dismissed from the clergy, a process called laicization that must be approved by the Vatican.

While the diocese has offered apologies on behalf of McFadden, the priest has never spoken publicly of the alleged crimes.

"I have spoken to him," DiNardo said. "There's a great deal of shame and humiliation. Given what his age is now, I'm not sure he's totally there in terms of memory. Whether that's repression or not, I don't know."

DiNardo called "absolutely horrible" the news of the Sioux City man's suicide, the second suicide in Iowa linked recently to clergy sex abuse. The bishop said he learned of the man's suffering after he received a letter from the victim's parents in March.

The bishop's remorse comes too late for Sokolowski and others who looked to the church to protect their children.

"I have lost all faith in the hierarchy," Sokolowski said. "I also feel differently about the church now. I have not stopped praying and still have faith in God, but I pray daily for all abused victims, their parents and families."

Reporter Lee Rood can be reached at (515) 284-8549 or

In 40 years, 1,500 priests linked to sex abuse in U.S.

Over the past four decades, about 1,500 priests nationally -including at least 12 in Iowa -have acknowledged or been accused of abuse, according to church officials.

Tom Chapman, a spokesman for the Des Moines Diocese, said other cases are likely to emerge as dioceses review all priests' records in the wake of the abuse charter.

In addition to hundreds of civil lawsuits filed since January, seven grand jury investigations over priestly misconduct are under way across the country, according to USA Today. The probes are focusing on the role of bishops and other church officials in ignoring or covering up sexual abuse by priests

McFadden's career

The Rev. George McFadden's 49 year career took him to several western Iowa cities:

1. 1953-1957: Storm Lake - assistant pastor, St. Mary's

2. 1957-1960: Sioux City - assistant pastor, Immaculate Conception parish.

3. 1960-1969: Sioux City - pastor, St. Francis of Assisi's parish

4. 1969-1972: Jefferson - pastor, St. Joseph's parish

5. 1972-1987: Le Mars - pastor, St. James' parish

6. 1987-1992: Sibley - pastor, St. Andrew's Church

7. 1992-2002: Sioux City - said daily mass at the Cathedral of the Epiphany


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