|Special: Agitated Phone Calls in 2002 Launched Soens Investigation
By Ann McGlynn
February 16, 2008
One Saturday morning in April 2002, a man called Regina High School in Iowa City over and over again.
A few of the calls were answered. Otherwise, he left voicemails that now-retired Bishop Lawrence Soens twisted his nipples more than once and ran his finger, outside of his pants, along his genitals while the two stood near Soens' office in the high school.
Soens touched him while Regina principal in the mid-1960s, he said. Nearly 40 years later, the man, off his anti-anxiety medication, called. And called. And called.
The man demanded a conversation with now-retired Bishop William Franklin by the following Tuesday, otherwise "he would be in front of the school with a sign making a public allegation," an investigation report says.
The calls prompted a flurry of meetings and a diocesan investigation. The calls also are the first publicly known sex abuse accusation against Soens, who now has two dozen such claims to his name.
The man, who remains publicly unidentified, could not be reached. So Mary Wieser, superintendent of diocesan schools; David Montgomery, diocesan communications director; and Ray Pechous, now principal at Regina; went to his house the following Monday.
Bishop Franklin then called the man.
The man "apologized for the way he had called Regina. He stated that he was off his medication, Paxil, and was venting about other problems in his life," the report says. He did not, however, recant. He called Soens' conduct "intimidating and controlling."
"When on the phone, he described it as torturous."
The man "stated that he did not wish to take things any further but the bishop should do what he needed to do."
The calls prompted now-Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Franklin and Bishop Jerome Hanus of the Archdiocese of Dubuque to order an investigation.
The investigators were Wieser, Montgomery, Monsignor Michael Morrissey, Monsignor Drake Shafer, former Chancellor Irene Prior Loftus and John Allen, an assistant principal at Regina.
"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."
The charter adopted in June 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "would not likely come into play" because Soens was a bishop, the investigation team determined. The charter only deals with how to handle sex abuse complaints against priests.
"However, in looking at the definition of sexual abuse in that charter, we questioned whether any of this conduct described would be for the adult's gratification," the diocesan investigation says.
Thomas Doyle, a Dominican priest and outspoken critic of the Catholic church's handling of sex abuse, said the charter clearly does not address the protocol for when bishops are the accused.
"In canon law, the only source that can adjudicate a bishop is the Vatican," he said, adding that no U.S. bishop has ever been defrocked for abuse. Several have resigned, he said.
The bishops, Doyle said, have promised "fraternal correction" of each other.
"Over the years, they have not policed the priests; you can be sure they are not going to police themselves," Doyle said.
The Diocese of Davenport, as part of its bankruptcy reorganization plan, agreed to send a report about Soens to the Vatican's representative in the United States.
Since the man made his frantic phone calls in 2002, two dozen more people have come forward with accusations against Soens, said Craig Levien, who represents many of the diocesan sex abuse victims.
The man is one of 156 people who filed claims against several clergy members in the diocesan bankruptcy.
The visit to the man's home was not the only stop made by Wieser and Montgomery on that Monday.
"Because the allegations were received at Regina through numerous phone calls, there were numerous members of the staff who were aware of the allegations," the report says. Wieser and Montgomery met with the administration and staff and told them the claim would be investigated.
The investigation team spoke, too, with several clergy members about Soens.
The Rev. Wally Helms confirmed the notion of "purpling," or the pinching of boy's nipples, but thought of it as something "more playful than disciplinary." Soens was a role model to him.
The Rev. Ken Kuntz "reluctantly relayed a story he heard third-hand about a boy who said Soens grabbed his crotch."
Monsignor James Parizek, a former Regina student, said Soens was "placed on a pedestal. Soens did grab and pinch the tendons in students' shoulders to get their attention but "it was considered nothing sexual."
Other clergy contacted heard of no such incidents, the report says, while Soens was at St. Ambrose College in charge of the seminarians or in any other setting. Sister Mary Francile and the Rev. Gene Benda were "shocked" by the allegations.
"Many spoke very highly of Bishop Soens as upright, honorable and dedicated to ministry and service."
Some school board members also were aware of the allegations. One board member -- a student at Regina during Soens' tenure -- confirmed the "purpling."
"Moreover, while a reluctant witness, he reported that while principal of Regina, Fr. Soens called him into the office on more than one occasion and pinched his testicles between the thumb and forefinger," the report states.
The board member said "he would like to think that it was disciplinary in nature rather than sexual, but he began to think that either before or after the pinching, Father would rub the outside palm of his hands up the thigh."
The board member identified twins who may be able to confirm the purpling, the report says. The investigative team decided not to talk with them. "Since we had more than two accounts of purpling, we did not find it necessary to call these twins. Our sexual misconduct policy strives for as much confidentiality as possible for the sake of both victim and the accused."
The report continues that the men "would not like any of this to be public. While many at Regina learned of the accusations and that Bishop Soens is the accused, thus far the matter has been relatively confidential."
Ann McGlynn can be contacted at (563) 383-2336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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