Priest Suspended over Abuse Allegations
Former Student Alleges Abuse by School's Religion Teacher
By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register [Council Bluffs IA]
February 3, 2007
A Council Bluffs priest has been suspended by the Des Moines Catholic Diocese following allegations that he sexually abused a child.
The Rev. Phillip Hobt is a religion teacher at Saint Albert Catholic High School in Council Bluffs.
The allegation was made this week by a former Saint Albert student, according to the diocese. A criminal investigation is under way, said Anne Cox, a diocese spokeswoman.
Hobt could not be reached for comment Friday.
Bishop Joseph Charron, who heads the Des Moines diocese, said: "The allegation comes as a shock to all of us. I understand there will be anger and grief among those who have worked closely with Father Hobt. However, our first priority must be in creating a safe environment for children who have been placed in our care."
The Hobt case is unusual in the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal because the diocese is taking swift and decisive action.
The Des Moines diocese receive the initial report on the allegations against Hobt, solicited a written statement from the victim, reported the alleged crime to police, suspended the priest, and notified the public - all in one week. In the past, as revealed by hundreds of lawsuits filed nationally since the church scandal broke in Boston in 2002, Catholic bishops faced with abuse reports preferred to cover up the misconduct.
In moving quickly, victims advocates said the diocese appears to be following its child protection policy.
"I'm surprised because the bishop hasn't been all that forthcoming," said William LaHay of Des Moines a member of the local chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I hope this is a sign of a change in the diocese response and behavior.."
Duane Chevalier of Council Bluffs, a member of St. Patrick's parish there, was surprised by Hobt's suspension.
"I know him as a person, and he's a nice person," Chevalier said. "When something like this happens, it is a sad day."
Chevalier is a member of the Serra Club, a Catholic organization that promotes vocations as priests and nuns. "What with all the precautions the church is taking these days, I didn't expect it," he said, referring to the allegations against Hobt. "... I know how careful they are at the seminaries before they accept people."
Advocates on behalf of the victims of abuse by priests said this may not be the last allegation against Hobt.
"There are almost always other victims and witnesses," said David Clohessy, national director of the survivors network. "We hope they'll find strength and courage to report to police officials, not church officials. Child abuse is a crime, and it needs to be handled that way."
Hobt taught classes on morality, church issues, the Old and New Testaments and "Christians in Context," according to the Saint Albert school Web site. He also served as the bishop's delegate on the Saint Albert Board of Education.
He was ordained in 1992 and served for three years at St. Augustin Catholic Church in Des Moines before being assigned to the Saint Albert faculty.
Deacon Fred Pins of St. Augustin said: "This is a surprise. I thought he was a fantastic young man. He interacted well with young people in the upper elementary and high school."
At the request of the alleged victim, the diocese did not disclose the person's gender or identify the police agency that is handling the criminal investigation.
Council Bluffs police said Friday that investigators did speak with diocese officials but decided they did not have jurisdiction when it was determined that the alleged abuse took place in a Chicago suburb.
Saint Albert has an enrollment of about 360 students.
Religion Editor Shirley Ragsdale can be reached at (515) 284-8208 or email@example.com
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.