Church Apology Reaction Mixed
Davenport Diocese Comment on Abuse Welcomed by Local Clergy, Questioned by Victim

By Craig T. Neises
The Hawk Eye [Iowa]
Downloaded January 30, 2004

For a Burlington man who came forward almost two years ago with the story of how he was the teenage victim of sexual abuse by a priest, an apology issued by a council of priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport to abuse victims rang hollow.

The southeast Iowa area's most senior priest, in the meantime, said the statement by the Presbyterial Council was a genuine attempt to aid healing in a diocese now facing 11 victim lawsuits for abuse during the past five–plus decades.

"This is one of the first steps," Monsignor John Hyland said.

According to an article published in Thursday's issue of The Catholic Messenger, the diocese's weekly newspaper, the Presbyterial, or priest's, council, recently adopted a pair of motions related to the issue of clergy abuse.

The first was an apology for the "gigantic betrayal of trust," and the pain caused by the "hideous nature of sexual abuse by priests."

Second was a revision of the agenda for the Spring Priest Convocation, a holy week event that now will give victims and mental health professionals a chance to educate priests about the personal affect of being abused by a member the clergy.

"We want to make a very positive statement about our concerns for the people who were abused and we want to know, where do we begin to bring healing to the people?" the Rev. Robert McAleer, chairman of the Presbyterial Council and pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Bettendorf, told The Messenger. "We're all part of the body of Christ — if one of us hurts, we all hurt."

To David Waldorf, words like that run counter to his experience trying to get answers from the diocese the past year and a half.

"Propaganda would be a great word. Damage control," said Waldorf, who stepped forward in 2002 with a claim that was abused in 1963 by an assistant priest at St. John's Catholic Church.

The only sure way for the diocese to help victims heal, Waldorf said, is for it to give a full public accounting of who among its priests have been accused of abuse, where they were and when, and how they were dealt with after the allegations were made. So far, Waldorf said his efforts to obtain such information have been thwarted or ignored.

A lack of openness seems to suggest that there is more yet to uncover about pastoral abuse in the diocese. At the very least, Waldorf believes that by having authority over investigations into past abuse, Bishop William Franklin is like the fox guarding the henhouse. Waldorf questions why law enforcement agencies haven't taken a deep interest in the issue.

Waldorf said he believes that Franklin's definition of pastoral care is taking care of pastors, and wondered aloud whether Franklin had something to hide.

"Doesn't that make anyone else suspicious?" he asked.

Franklin is expected in the region today for special Catholic Schools Week masses at Notre Dame and Marquette schools. Hyland said the bishop will not address the topic of clergy abuse, but rather will focus on Catholic education.

Text of the motions passed by the Presbyterial Council will be included in Sunday bulletins at churches throughout the area.

At churches in Burlington and West Burlington, the motions will be introduced with a personal apology from Hyland and two other local priests, the Revs. Jerry Stouvenel and Patrick Hilgendorf.

"We support the following motions by the Presbyterial Council, and offer apologies to victims of sexual abuse and their families, as well as our prayers," Hyland said, previewing the words that will appear Sunday. "Our hope is that the horrible acts . . . by a few priests do not reflect on the priests of our diocese who, as they continue to minister to God's people, also experience pain because of these horrible actions."

Offering an aside, Hyland said, "people fail to understand this hurts us."

He said the bishop has made every effort to encourage abuse victims to come forward, including statements to area Catholics and a weekly invitation published in The Messenger offering contact information to abuse victims. Hyland also noted Franklin's recent efforts to address the concerns of parishioners at SS. Philip and James church in Grand Mound, where the priest accused in eight of the 11 lawsuits was assigned throughout the 1980s.

Given the limitations placed on the diocese by the ongoing litigation, Hyland said he believes that everything that can be done to seek out and support abuse victims, and to explain the scope of the issue to Catholics in the diocese, is being done.

An audit and survey of records in the diocese pertaining to abuse are required by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and were not completed only because of the lawsuits, Hyland said. The auditors didn't want to wind up as witnesses, he said, and the survey would have revealed the names of abuse victims who wish to maintain anonymity.

"They keep saying they can't do anything," Waldorf said. "I think it's cowardly to hide behind the victims."

Hyland, who serves as co–vicar general of the diocese in addition to his duties as parish priest at SS. John and Paul in Burlington, takes offense at the suggestion that there is some kind of a cover–up.

"We haven't hid a damn thing from the people here," he said, adding if people don't accept that as the truth, "they haven't listened."

He also dismisses the idea that the apology is intended to convince people to start opening up their wallets and purses again, explaining that contributions to the diocese actually are on the rise.

In the weeks to come, Hyland said there will be more information about past incidences of abuse made public by the diocese. He would not elaborate further.


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