Lawsuit Claims School Knew of Ex-Bishop's Alleged Abuse
Regina Officials in Iowa City Deny the Accusation in the Lawrence Soens Case
By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register [Iowa]
September 8, 2006
Lawrence Soens, the retired bishop of the Sioux City Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, was a sexual sadist who preyed on scores of boys when he was principal of Regina Catholic High School in Iowa City, allege court papers filed this week in a lawsuit against Soens, the high school and the Davenport Diocese.
The inch-thick filing details plaintiff Michael Gould's reasons why a judge should not dismiss the case against the school. Regina officials have said the school should be dropped from the lawsuit because there was no evidence anyone at the school knew of or should have known of Soens' alleged behavior between 1959 and 1967, the years he was principal.
Former students who are suing Soens, the school and the Davenport Diocese allege that the abusive actions were so well known among students that they often recited a crude ditty about the dangers of being called into the principal's office. The doggerel referred to the apparent pleasure that they contend Soens' took in "purpling" students - cornering them in the hallways or office, grabbing their nipples and twisting so hard as to leave a bruise.
In his lawsuit, Gould, now a Florida resident, charges that Soens molested him and other boys whose sworn statements are included in the court filing. Gould alleges that the abuse began in 1963 and continued until he graduated.
According to the sworn statement, Soens would call Gould to his office on the pretext of discussing a disciplinary matter and close the door. Gould alleges that Soens would position himself in front of Gould and "begin rubbing my nipples with the back of his index finger. He would begin to pinch the nipple between his index finger and his thumb and stroke and pinch either nipple while continuing to talk."
Gould said in the statement that Soens would stroke Gould's genitals with the back of his index finger on the outside of his slacks. "He would then unzip my slacks, reach inside and continue rubbing my penis on the outside of my underwear in the same manner," Gould said.
Gould said he believes Soens was so open and obvious in his actions - especially the purpling - that "the nuns and teachers must have known about it."
In their sworn statements, several men allege that office personnel saw Soens molest them. Several students resisted and left Regina for public school, while others stuck it out, not wanting to disappoint their Catholic families, according to the statements.
Attorneys for Regina filed sealed court papers on Aug. 14, asking that Gould's lawsuit be dismissed. They also asked that Gould's response be kept secret.
A judge had not ruled by Monday, when Gould's response documents were filed.
"I'm terribly, terribly disappointed," said Patrick Roby of Cedar Rapids, Regina lawyer. "I don't like to try cases in the newspaper. (Gould's) filing is just one side of the story."
Roby said it is well documented that no adults associated with Regina knew about what Soens may have done.
"We had the lady, the secretary for the first five years Soens was principal, who sat outside his door and never saw anybody come out and give any indication of distress, in tears or anything," Roby said.
The men who have sued the Soens have said otherwise, according to Craig Levien of Davenport, a lawyer for Gould and 14 other men.
Included in Gould's court filing is a sworn statement by a man identified only as "Student No. 10" who alleges that Soens molested him 10 to 15 times.
"You would have to be blind and just not paying attention to not know what was going on," the man said. "And I don't know how teachers and coaches and janitors and these kinds of people didn't know. ... They had to. I mean, it was just common knowledge among ninth-graders."
In the 18 sworn statements included in the filing, several men said they believed Soens derived sexual pleasure from the abuse because during the incidents he "sneered" or "smiled."
However, a panel of Catholics that was asked in 2002 by Bishop William Franklin, the head of the Davenport diocese, to investigate allegations against Soens stated: "It appears to the committee members that some actions may have occurred which would not have been appropriate. It is much more difficult to begin to assess whether any actions were sexual in any way, rather than a disciplinary method."
Rand Wonio of Davenport, a lawyer for the Davenport Diocese, said Franklin has sent all reports of Soens' alleged sexual misconduct to the Vatican.
In a deposition included in Monday's filing, Soens said he has asked the church's Congregation of Bishops for resolution of the claims against him.
"I really want to know whether or not I can go back and do active ministry the way I was," Soens said.
In another part of his deposition, Soens appears to admit that he was involved in "purpling" male students. When the lawyer asked whether Soens had engaged in such actions, he responded, "It would seem I have."
"Are you admitting you did that?" the lawyer asked.
Soens responded: "I think I probably did."
Gould's lawsuit is scheduled for jury trial starting Sept. 20 in Scott County District Court in Davenport.
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