Review Clears Davenport Priest Accused of Touching
May 23, 2013
A suspended Catholic priest in Davenport, Iowa, has been reinstated after a diocesan investigation did not substantiate an allegation that he inappropriately touched a minor in 1990, his bishop announced Thursday.
A monthlong review by private detective James Sweeney found no wrongdoing by the Rev. Robert Harness, the pastor of Holy Family Church, and recommended he be cleared, said Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport.
Amos said Harness would return to lead the church immediately. His April suspension had shocked parishioners and prior victims of priest abuse who had received counseling from Harness.
Amos suspended Harness after someone came forward to say that Harness improperly touched a minor in 1990. The bishop said the suspension was required under church rules during the investigation. The church also reported the allegation to the Scott County Attorney's Office, which declined to investigate because of the statute of limitations.
Harness' accuser said the priest had inappropriately touched a minor during a game played at a high school retreat, Amos said. The review found that the game was played in front of as many as 50 students and 10 adults and that “none of the witnesses observed nor has anyone else reported any inappropriate behavior by Father Harness,” Amos said.
A church spokesman declined to say where the incident occurred or to release additional details. Harness was assigned to St. Mary parish in Keota at the time.
Amos said he was announcing the findings “in the hope of helping to restore the good character” of Harness, who has not been accused of other inappropriate behavior.
“This has been a painful process for everyone involved. I hope that, in the end, the process that the diocese follows will restore the dignity of all those who have been harmed,” Amos said.
Diocesan spokesman Deacon David Montgomery said Harness' suspension was difficult for parishioners who knew him as a caring, excellent pastor.
“The most common comment I've heard is people can't believe that anything occurred,” he said.
Montgomery said a separate diocesan investigation continues into an allegation against the Rev. John Stack, who was accused of inappropriately touching minors in the 1980s when he worked at Holy Family. Stack has been suspended for a month from his job as the chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Clinton.
The Davenport Diocese has been hit hard by allegations about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy that has roiled the Catholic Church worldwide in recent decades. It emerged from bankruptcy protection last year after fulfilling the terms of a $37 million settlement that compensated more than 160 victims.
The diocese has released the names of more than 30 priests believed to have committed abuse.