Globe Gazette Editorial:
Full Disclosure Essential in Abuse Cases
Globe Gazette [Iowa]
Downloaded May 14, 2004
It is with some reluctance that we approach today's topic, sexual abuse accusations against former clergy in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. We do not wish to be thought of as critics of the Roman Catholic Church, or of any faith.
So let us make it absolutely clear that we respect the church. It would be difficult to find an institution that has equaled the good works of the church, either on a personal or communitywide scale.
Why, then, did this newspaper devote front-page coverage last week to efforts by two men, Larry Kramer of Byron, Minn., and Steve Theisen of Hudson, to heighten awareness of their tainted boyhood experiences with officials of the church? Both contend they were sexually abused, Kramer by a priest in Stacyville and Theisen by a nun in Dubuque.
The archdiocese concedes the accusations are credible and, in the case of the priest, demonstrable. Monsignor James Barta, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Dubuque, also explained that neither is involved in any type of work for the church. Both are elderly and Barta said the church took action to prevent the priest from serving in any capacity.
It is worth noting that the archdiocese appears to consider these types of accusations as a serious matter. Late in 2003, for example, Archbishop Jerome Hanus sent a letter to every household in the 30-county Archdiocese of Dubuque, which includes North Central Iowa, apologizing for sexual misconduct by some priests and offering a program for preventing abuses in the future.
The church reported that 26 priests were accused of misconduct between 1950 and 2002, a period of time in which a total of 973 priests served the archdiocese. Only eight of the 26 priests linked to misconduct were alive when the letter from Hanus was sent to members of the church. Those eight priests were not named in the letter, nor has the church ever publicly disseminated their names, although some have been identified in news accounts of criminal cases, Barta explained in a Friday telephone interview.
Barta said a decision to identify the priests could only be made by the archbishop. He said that he would relay this newspaper's request for identification to the archbishop, and that the matter of identifying members of the clergy who are thought to have acted inappropriately still is part of an ongoing consideration of the topic.
We hope that is the case. It is in the best interest of the public and the church to fully identify those surviving persons that the church is convinced acted improperly. It would not be our desire to harm the reputations of people who are merely accused of wrongdoing, perhaps truthfully in some cases, perhaps out of malice, delusion or as extortion in other cases. And there seems to be no purpose served by identifying deceased priests who were suspected of wrongdoing.
Perhaps we will be accused of making too much of a fuss over a small number of accusations in a 52-year time span involving nearly 1,000 priests. But it must be remembered that the faithful view nuns and priests as God's representatives on earth. They have a position of nearly unimaginable trust.
We are talking about an abuse of that trust. This is a legitimate public interest, not purely a matter for the church. The former members of the priesthood could be anywhere, and they might be associating with people, including children and young people, who don't have any information about their past transgressions. On another level, a public identification of the suspected priests would demonstrate that the archdiocese is interested in having all victims come forward, that the church is legitimately interested in making amends.
It would be a bold step, one that acknowledges that the Catholic Church is facing a crisis of trust.
First, our perhaps naive trust in priests and nuns as being somehow above mortal temptation was shaken by the knowledge that some of them abused children - 12 girls and 55 boys between 1950 and 2002 in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, by the church's own written admission.
Our trust in the nation's Catholic hierarchy to do what is in the best interest of its parishes and parishioners was shaken by the knowledge that some bishops and others covered up abuse allegations, moved accused priests around to new parishes and dioceses without telling the people in their new assignments about the allegations, paid to settle cases out of court and neglected to report allegations of abuse to the police.
We've heard apologies and have been promised that procedures have been put into place to prevent it from happening again. But we have been given numbers rather than specifics.
If there have been credible and demonstrable allegations made against priests and the bishops have taken action on those allegations, they owe it to the laity to name names and cite specifics so that we can protect ourselves. The fact that someone is no longer serving as a priest or is elderly doesn't mean he isn't still a danger, even if the church has tried to remove itself from responsibility by removing the priest from the priesthood or from active ministry.
Full disclosure is in the best interest of the church, too. The liability claims against the Archdiocese of Dubuque could be staggering if, God forbid, one of the unidentified former priests takes advantage of an unsuspecting child. We can't imagine how it will be able to successfully answer the question of why it didn't adequately warn the public.
The parents among us are deeply concerned about matters that threaten our children. There is nothing more important than doing everything possible to keep our children safe.
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