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  Lawsuit Claim: Church Knew of Sex Abuse Back in 1950s, '60s
Archdiocese Says It Didn't Know until 1992

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
August 19, 2005

Despite Dubuque Catholic officials' adamant claims that the archdiocese had no reports until the 1990s of a former chancellor's sexual misconduct, court documents reveal that priests and former seminarians told other priests in the 1950s and '60s they had been assaulted by the chancellor.

The Rev. William Roach, who served as chancellor and vicar general of the archdiocese, and lived for a time in the home of Archbishop Leo Binz, is the subject of a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Several early reports of sexual misconduct and sexual assault are summarized in court documents filed this week by attorneys for James Cummins, a Dallas, Texas-based correspondent for NBC News. Last year, Cummins sued the archdiocese, alleging he was sexually assaulted by Roach when he was 17 in the early 1960s and an altar boy at Immaculate Conception church in Cedar Rapids.

Roach retired from active ministry in 1990 and died in an alcohol-related car accident in 1997. At the time, archdiocesan documents show church officials couldn't suppress reports that Roach "was over the legal limit of alcohol" at the time of the crash.

Officials for the Archdiocese of Dubuque did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment.

The archdiocese, in court statements, continues to assert that church officials did not receive any documentation of sexual misconduct by Roach, who as a priest took a vow of celibacy.

Monsignor James Barta, in a sworn statement, said the earliest documentation of allegations of abuse against Roach came in a June 10, 1992, telephone call involving then-Archbishop Daniel Kucera. The archdiocese is asking the court to dismiss Cummins' lawsuit.

However, Cummins' attorneys say they have documented much earlier reports to the archdiocese.

It's unclear whether those reports were documented or passed on to Archbishop Binz. However, employment records show that Roach rose rapidly in the archdiocese under Binz's 1951-61 tenure as coadjutor archbishop and then archbishop.

Roach was Binz's secretary, or chancellor, and then the vicar general, or chief administrator, for the diocese. He went back to being a parish priest in 1961, after Binz left the archdiocese to become archbishop in St. Paul, Minn.

According to sworn statements given to Cummins' lawyers, two young Loras College seminarians told a priest that they walked home in the middle of a freezing night from a drunken party thrown by Roach in 1956 or 1957 after they were sexually assaulted and feared they would be raped by Roach and John Peters, another priest.

When they reported what happened to them to the Rev. Raymond Roseliep, they were sworn to secrecy. However, the incident was later acknowledged by a letter from the archdiocese in 1972 or 1973, one of the seminarians said in an affidavit that was summarized by Cummins' lawyer.

In 1961 or 1962, another Loras seminarian reported to another priest, the Rev. Albert Manternach, that Roach attempted to assault him on New Year's Eve of 1959 or 1960.

After he graduated in the spring of 1962, the young man wrote to Archbishop James J. Byrne, reporting the prevalence of homosexual behavior on the Loras campus and described the inappropriate sexual activities in which Roach had attempted to engage him. The seminarian told Byrne that Roach was dangerous, according to court papers describing his affidavit.

"We must familiarize ourselves with the lawsuit," said Valorie Woerdehoff, Loras' director of institutional marketing. "This is the first time we have heard these accusations."

In 1961, Binz assigned Roach to be a pastor at Immaculate Conception, according to court papers. Roach resigned as vicar general the same day.

During this time, Roach, who was not a good driver, was assigned young Catholic students to drive him. One of those students was Cummins, who alleges he was sexually abused by Roach and Peters in July or August 1962.

Cummins told his parents after the second sexual assault, and they reported the abuse to an archdiocesan official.

In his lawsuit, Cummins alleges that because the diocese did not sanction Roach and the abuse was kept secret, Roach victimized others.

During that same summer of 1962, Roach is accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two other teenage boys, one of them James Paddock. Documents filed by Cummins' lawyer state that Paddock was sexually abused by Roach during an overnight trip to northeast Iowa. Paddock has also sued the archdiocese.

By 1963, Archbishop Byrne apparently was concerned enough about Roach's drinking that he assigned the Rev. John D. Pepper to serve as an assistant to Roach at Immaculate Conception. In doing so, Byrne asked Pepper to watch Roach and report back any abusive drinking, according to a sworn statement from Pepper.

Pepper counted numerous alcohol parties thrown by Roach and also stated that Roach later propositioned him.

After Cummins filed his lawsuit, Mary Ann Gureno came forward to report a similar experience with Roach suffered by her husband, Augie Gureno. In a sworn statement, Mary Ann said she did not learn of the abuse until a few months before Augie died in 2002.

Steve Theisen, Iowa director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, applauded the courage of the victims and witnesses of Roach's sexual misconduct.

"They are providing the information that Dubuque officials have failed to disclose," said Theisen of Hudson. "It's shameful that the archdiocese has been and continues to hide the truth while so many suffer."

Cummins' attorney, Chad Swanson of Waterloo, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

 
 

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