Sex Abuse Charges Have Local Ties
Numerous lawsuits file accusing Catholic clergy of abuse

By Craig T. Neises
Hawkeye Newspaper (Burlington IA)
December 30, 2003

A sex abuse scandal of national scope came home to roost in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport in 2003, with numerous lawsuits filed accusing clergy of abuse.

As of mid–December, eight people were suing the diocese, claiming they had been the victims of abuse.

Several of the cases have ties to southeast Iowa.

In January, a Hamilton, Ill., man filed suit, claiming he was abused by a now–dead priest at the Church of All Saints in Keokuk between 1967 and 1970.

Then, in May, a Clinton County man sued for damages after claiming he was abused in the 1960s by a priest who also served at churches in Burlington and Fort Madison. And in July, Monsignor Drake Shafer, vicar general of the diocese, was accused in a lawsuit by a man now living in West Burlington of molesting him while a parish priest in Fort Madison.

Shafer stepped aside as No. 2 cleric in the diocese while he answers the charge.

In August, Monsignor John Hyland, of SS. John and Paul in Burlington, was appointed interim co–vicar general to fulfill a portion of Shafer's duties during his leave of absence.

While people claiming to be victims of abuse have filed lawsuits, victim advocacy groups have accused the Davenport diocese of being slow to act in responding to both victims' claims and the mandates of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, which required dioceses across the country to complete studies of past abuses and to develop policies aimed at preventing future abuse.

The Davenport diocese was the last of four in Iowa to complete its sexual abuse prevention policy. The policy was released in July. It requires background checks for clergy, as well as other diocesan employees and volunteers who work closely with children, and training for all diocese staff on recognizing the signs of abuse and how to report it. The policy also mandates that accused clergy be removed from their ministry and placed on leave while the diocese investigates the abuse claim.

Unlike a similar document completed by the Archdiocese of Dubuque, there is no requirement in the Davenport policy that civil authorities be notified for possible criminal prosecution.

And in November, the diocese incurred the wrath of victims advocates when it missed a USCCB deadline for completing a survey of abuse claims against the diocese dating back to 1952. The diocese said it was operating under conflicting instructions that prevented it from completing the survey.

A Clinton County judge issued a ruling preventing the diocese from destroying documents related to priest abuse, while instructions for the survey said notes and other working documents used to complete the survey should be destroyed on a daily basis. The diocese asked the court for permission to destroy those documents.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Clinton County judge ruled the diocese must hand over to plaintiffs' attorneys records of documents pertaining to incidences of sexual abuse by priests dating back 50 years.

Deacon David Montgomery, spokesman for the diocese, said this month that the issue of document disclosure remained before the court. He also said it was his belief that the question of whether the diocese could destroy working documents related to the required USCCB survey was still under judicial review.


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