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  Iowa Dioceses Scour Records for Sex Abuse Reports
Active and Retired Priests Could Face Punishment in Light of a National Policy Adopted Last Week

By Jason Clayworth
Des Moines Register
June 18, 2002

Catholic officials in the next month will scrutinize the records of hundreds of active and retired priests in Iowa, looking for allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a child, spokesmen for three of Iowa's four dioceses said Monday.

New rules adopted last week during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops effectively remove from the clergy priests or deacons who have ever had inappropriate sexual contact with a child. Under those rules, offenders would not be permitted to say Mass in public, wear clerical garb or even present themselves to the public as clerics.

The national policy recommends that each diocese form a review board to assess allegations, a process that at least three of Iowa's four dioceses have begun.

"I hope people see this for what it is," said Tom Chapman, communications director for the Des Moines diocese. "When there are founded accusations, a priest can't exercise any priestly ministry. Anyone who thinks a priest would not be punished by that is mistaken."

Several of the Des Moines diocese's 107 active and retired priests face possible removal from clerical status, including the Rev. Tan Tran. Tran, former associate pastor of St. Theresa's Catholic Church in Des Moines, was accused in 1995 of sexual harassment by 10 girls who said he had inappropriately "patted and hugged" them.

Church officials allowed Tran, a native of Vietnam, to return to his work after a psychologist found that Tran's actions had no sexual intent. Tran said in 1995 that he was showing love and care, and had no intent to harass or harm anyone.

Tran, who now works at St. Patrick's Rectory in Bayard, did not return phone calls Monday. Chapman said he is unsure how the advisory committee will react to Tran's file since his behavior was determined to have had no sexual intent.

"I think it's a question of what is sexual abuse and what the new policy covers," Chapman said.

Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque said Monday that a group of at least five people will review any past allegations made against the diocese's 241 retired and active priests. The diocese's 1993 policy is similar to the new national guidelines, he said.

"I think we have already dealt very responsibly with allegations," Hanus said.

Jim Wharton, director of communication for the Diocese of Sioux City, said an advisory committee will review past allegations. He didn't know how far back the group might look into its 153 active and retired priests.

"They've got a lot of decisions to make," Wharton said.

David Montgomery, a spokesman for the Davenport diocese, said he didn't know if a similar review committee will look at past records. Bishop William E. Franklin will meet with staff and make that decision in the next few weeks, he said.

Win Douglass, a member of St. Augustin's Church in Des Moines, said looking at the past records of priests could help church members and the public better deal with the abuse issues. "I think it's a good idea," Douglass said.

Reporter Jason Clayworth can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or clayworthj@news.dmreg.com

National policy

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last week approved a national policy on disciplining priests. The entire report can be read on the Internet at www.usccb.org. Here are key points of the policy:

* Barring priests who commit sexual abuse from parish work and all public ministry. While remaining priests, they would have no public duties and likely would live out their lives in monasteries or retirement homes.

* Forcing bishops to report all allegations of abuse of minors to civil authorities, without first determining whether they are credible.

* Allowing bishops, acting on the advice of an advisory board composed mainly of lay people, to decide whether to oust abusive clergy from the priesthood.

* Requiring that bishops no longer make confidentiality agreements in settlements of civil lawsuits over sex abuse unless the victim insists.

* Requiring background checks for all diocesan and parish workers who have contact with children.

* Requiring bishops to provide an "accurate and complete" description of a priest's personnel record if the cleric seeks to transfer to another diocese.

* Creating a commission to research how the U.S. church has responded to sex abuse by priests.

* Creating a national Office of Child and Youth Protection in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to implement "safe environment" programs and take other actions to protect children from abuse.

* Creating a review board to work with the Child Protection Office to annually examine how the bishops are responding to abuse.

* Having dioceses establish an outreach program to support victims of priestly sexual abuse.

 
 

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