Formerly Accused Priest Wants Diocese to Release Names
By Brian Wellner
July 6, 2012
A priest exonerated by the Vatican of child molestation charges said his diocese should release all names of priests accused of sexually abusing children, regardless of whether their charges were dropped.
The Rev. Drake Shafer spoke Thursday both as a former vicar general once accused of abusing a teenager in the 1970s and as a victim himself of a sex abuse crime he said happened more than 50 years ago when he was a minor.
His alleged abuser was a priest.
“I can certainly understand why victims want the names to be presented,” said Shafer, pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Long Grove. “And I can personally understand it, as a victim.”
A judge’s recent ruling allows the Diocese of Davenport, which is coming out of bankruptcy over the clergy sex abuse scandal, to withhold the names of 18 priests whose accusers received financial settlements.
The diocese’s attorney, Rand Wonio, said Thursday the diocese will not release the 18 names.
“I do not think it is in any respect fair to post the name of a priest who we’ve found to not be credibly accused just because he’s been accused,” Wonio said. “We still live in a country where accused people have some rights.”
Regarding Shafer’s comment Thursday, Wonio said, “He’s entitled to have his own opinion.”
Meanwhile, at least one lay person with ties to the diocese likely will be declared credibly accused following a diocese review board hearing today. The diocese is reviewing the case against Walter Phipps, a former volunteer football coach convicted of abusing children 40 years ago at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf, Wonio said.
“He was a known sexual abuser,” Wonio said of Phipps.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the diocese’s withholding of the names, especially as it chooses to release names of non-clergy.
“The ordained are afforded privileges lay people are not,” Clohessy said.
The diocese, its insurance company and the creditors committee agreed to a $37 million bankruptcy settlement to cover more than 150 sex abuse victims. The terms included the creation of a list of credible allegations of abuse on its website, which includes 31 former priests, their places of employment, dates and other details.
Attorney Craig Levien, who has represented local victims of clergy abuse, including Shafer’s accuser, said listing names of all priests accused of abuse, including those found not credible, can encourage other victims to come forward.
“It’s quite possible that of these 18, if they were to name them, other abuse victims would come forward and prove the credibility,” Levien said. “Keeping it a secret prevents other individuals from coming forward.”
The Archdiocese of Dubuque posts on its website a list of priests accused of abuse, including pending cases as well as those that have been settled.
Shafer said he wonders if his own name is among the 18 the diocese refuses to disclose.
“I don’t know if they’re counting me as one of those 18 or not,” Shafer said. “I might be.”
Shafer was the vicar general, the second-highest-ranking priest in the diocese, when he went on leave in July 2003 after a man claiming he was abused by Shafer filed a lawsuit against him. Shafer came forward, naming himself as the defendant in the lawsuit, he said.
“I outed myself, so to speak,” he said. “I was in a position of authority. I felt I had to be transparent.”
Shafer said as vicar general he helped form the diocesan review board that hears abuse cases. Therefore, his own case couldn’t be heard by the local board, he said.
Instead, Shafer went before a secret Vatican court and was found innocent.
Shafer said witnesses were called to testify, but he couldn’t remember if the victim testified.
Levien said the victim was not allowed to testify.
Shafer said he knew the victim, and the two went on a trip together and stayed overnight at a hotel. He denied he abused the minor.
“When I came forward, I left my office to prove my innocence,” he said.
He has since been reassigned to St. Ann’s.
Speaking Thursday from the church’s weekend nursery, where children’s paintings color the walls, Shafer struggled through a trembling voice and some bouts of anger as he maintained his innocence while sharing his own abuse suffered at the hands of a priest.
“Do I wish I would have gone to my parents? Yes,” he said. “But that’s not what happens to children who are abused. They tend to hide it, take responsibility for it.”
Times were different 50 years ago, he added.
He regrets the way the Davenport diocese handled the clergy sex abuse case in the beginning.
“I wish the church as a whole, and the diocese in particular, dealt more straightforwardly in the beginning and thoroughly investigated all allegations,” he said. “I regret that so much harm was done to children.”
Wonio insists the diocese has been transparent and has met all requirements of the bankruptcy plan. He did agree with part of what Shafer said.
“It’s fair to say that when the allegations first started to hit the diocese in 2003, they came fast and furious,” Wonio said. “I was defending 20 lawsuits at one time. People in the diocese also were in shock.
“Everyone learned hard lessons on how to better handle these things.”
Part of the bankruptcy outcome includes a $5 million set-aside for future claims. Wonio said some already have settled from that.
Shafer said he has “great sympathy” for victims of abuse and he’s glad more awareness exists today.
“Tragically, that’s come from these situations involving churches and universities, but in a way, I’m glad for that,” Shafer said. “Hopefully, less young people will be harmed.”