Abuse Victim Travels to Rome
By Dustin Lemmon
Quad-City Times [Iowa]
November 12, 2006
This week when Moliner and clergy abuse victim Bill Christman travels to Rome, he hopes to tell Vatican leaders — and possibly the pope — about the impact two local priests had on his recovery and reconciliation with the church.
As a child, Christman was abused by former local priest William Wiebler, who died in September, and he was one of the first local abuse victims to come forward and confront the church and Wiebler in 2002.
Like many of the local abuse victims, Christman was angry with the church for the way it supervised Wiebler and handled his allegations. When he first met the Rev. Bob Gruss, chancellor of the Davenport Diocese, a man he now calls his friend, Gruss was impressed by his intensity.
"He said he'd never seen anybody more angry," Christman recalled. "He said I was the angriest man he'd ever seen."
Their first meeting came at a mediation hearing in September 2005. Christman was set to go to trial in November 2005 in a suit he had filed against the diocese. Gruss, a new chancellor, came into the meeting and surprised Christman with an apology.
"I didn't believe it was going anywhere," Christman said of the hearing. "We'd already been through several depositions in which I had to share every intimate detail with strangers."
Gruss took an approach that Christman hadn't seen from the church previously.
"He said he was extremely sorry for what happened and ever since he'd familiarized himself with my case he had prayed for me on a daily basis," Christman recalled. "That really struck me that this man would do something like this. He was very sincere and passionate."
Christman said he never doubted Gruss.
"I believe he was telling me the truth, that he was sorry," Christman said. "Here this man was apologizing to me on behalf of the entire church."
At the mediation, Christman agreed to settle his case for $180,000. He and Gruss later struck up a friendship.
"A couple of weeks after I met him, he called me and wanted to go out to lunch, and we met and had a delightful conversation and went over all of this," Gruss said. "We're just grateful that Bill has come this far in his healing."
Gruss said he has tried to offer similar apologies to other victims.
"My role, I guess, is to help victims move toward healing and to facilitate that in whatever way I can," Gruss said. "Often times, I don't get the chance to do this with all the victims."
"He tries to do that same thing with everybody, but not everyone is going to receive it like I do," Christman said.
Last month, the Davenport Diocese filed bankruptcy in federal court after losing a jury decision in September in which abuse victim, Michl Uhde of Davenport, was awarded $1.5 million in damages. The diocese had already settled several cases out of court since 2004 totalling $10 million.
Although Christman was one of the first victims to come forward, he was one of the last to file a lawsuit in Scott County District Court. Christman said he didn't want to sue at first, but he became angry with the church after Wiebler moved to St. Louis and he wasn't notified.
"I got the feeling they were trying to do some underhanded things," he said, adding that's when he sought help from a local attorney.
Now, Christman has restored his relationship with the church to a point where he's going to meet Tuesday with Msgr. Robert Deeley, an official with the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, at the Vatican. The congregation oversees Catholic doctrine on faith and morals and the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
The meeting was arranged by Gruss and Bishop William Franklin, who have written letters and e-mails to the Vatican arranging the meeting. Christman's close friend, Pastor Richard Barclift of St. Patrick's Parish in Andalusia, Ill., will be going with Christman to Rome.
Christman said Barclift supported him throughout his case, from the time he first remembered the abuse in 2002, after seeing reports about other clergy abuse on television, through the conclusion of his lawsuit.
Bob Noonan, an author from Canaan, Maine, whom Christman has contracted to write a book telling his story, also will accompany Christman. Noonan said he's writing the book and hopes to have it published this spring.
Christman said he wants to tell Deeley, and possibly the pope, about his experience in hopes they'll encourage others to follow the examples of Gruss and Barclift.
"I'm trying to do a good thing," Christman said. "I want other victims to know what happened."
Barclift noted that Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was the leader of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith before being named pope. Deeley was appointed to his position in December 2005.
"He wants to share the good news with people who want to hear it," Barclift said of Christman, noting the story is not about he and Gruss, but about Christman's recovery. "It's been a sincere prayer of all bishops and all active priests that all of the victims be restored and that apologies and regrets be expressed clearly."
Christman also wants Catholics to read the book when it comes out so they can see everything that happened from his face-to-face meeting with Wiebler in 2002, to his lawsuit, to his reconciliation with the church.
"They're going to see the good, the bad and the ugly, they're going to see it in the first chapter," he said, "but it's got a good ending."
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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