Bankruptcy Enrages Activists
Diocese Is - Once Again - Ignoring Abuse Victims, They Say
By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register [Davenport IA]
October 12, 2006
About half a dozen activists who stood outside Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport were as harsh in their criticism of church officials as the cold rain that fell on them Wednesday.
The victims of priest abuse and their supporters blasted a decision to file for bankruptcy Tuesday as a response to lawsuits seeking monetary damages for those who say they were sexually abused as children by clergy.
"It seemed the wind was as cold and bitter as the heart of the diocese this morning," said D. Michl Uhde of Davenport.
They criticized Davenport Bishop William E. Franklin for refusing their request to meet with lay Catholics from the diocese's seven regions before filing bankruptcy. They also wanted the diocese to submit to an independent audit of assets before filing.
The members of Davenport-based Catholics for Spiritual Healing and Iowa Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests made a similar plea two years ago, just before the diocese negotiated a $9 million settlement with 37 men who made child sexual abuse claims against diocesan priests.
"We got no response from the bishop two years ago and he did not respond to us yesterday," said Ann Green of De Witt, the wife of an abuse survivor.
Uhde, who on Sept. 18 received a $1.5 million jury award against the diocese, accused the diocese of choosing to pay bankruptcy attorneys millions to avoid answering victims' questions or taking responsibility for the "past behavior of those responsible for the horrible crimes against children."
"The only ones to benefit from this behavior are their attorneys," Uhde said.
Rand Wonio, attorney for the diocese, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Uhde said that victims' attorneys proposed a settlement that would have covered payment to all existing claims and would have paid for a program to provide for the needs of future victims.
Craig Levien of Davenport, one of Uhde's attorneys, said the diocese did not respond to the offer.
The bankruptcy froze payment of Uhde's jury award and puts in limbo 15 pending claims by men alleging they were sexually abused by retired Sioux City Bishop Lawrence Soens.
Additional claims include seven against Monsignor Thomas Feeney, former Davenport vicar general, who died in 1982; two against the Rev. William Wiebler, who died this year; and one against Monsignor Carl Meinberg, former president of St. Ambrose University before becoming pastor at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Iowa City. He died in 1975.
Green is especially concerned about the deadline that is likely to be set by the diocese and the court requiring abuse victims to file claims or forego financial payment from diocesan assets.
"Those who work and live with survivors know that emotionally, victims come to terms with their abuse in their own time," Green said. "It cannot be forced. And it doesn't happen at the convenience of the bishop."
Al Burke of Le Claire, an abuse survivor who has not sued the diocese, said he is not confident that filing bankruptcy will be fair to abuse survivors. He also fears Catholics will blame survivors.
"People call me and ask me why I'm trying to ruin the church," Burke said. "I'm not trying to hurt the church. I'm part of the church. I go to Mass every Sunday and I'm comfortable there."
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