Bishop Accountability
  Davenport Diocese Not Fully Cooperative

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City (IA) Times
January 6, 2004

The Diocese of Davenport did not fully cooperate in a nationwide audit of sex abuse policies by refusing to let investigators conduct interviews without diocese attorneys present, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, said Tuesday.

Investigators terminated the compliance audit Oct. 29, prior to its completion, when Bishop William Franklin and the auditors determined that “a full and fair review could not be completed without interference from outside entities,” the USCCB report states.

“The determination was that a proper interview couldn’t be conducted under those conditions,” said Sheila Horan, deputy director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB in Washington, D.C. “To get a really solid interview, you do not have an attorney sitting there.”

The report found that 90 percent of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States were complying fully with a new mandatory policy the USCCB adopted in June 2002 to prevent sex abuse by priests in the wake of a national scandal.

Davenport was the only diocese not audited as part of the national report due to ongoing litigation. Two other dioceses were not audited due to scheduling difficulties.

“(Davenport) was a unique situation,” Horan said.

Davenport Diocese attorney Chuck Miller said the diocese has implemented the policies the audit sought to check, but, he said it is more important to protect privileged information in connection with nine ongoing civil lawsuits than to be “intimately concerned with whether all the paperwork is filled out.

“The proof of the pudding is whether the policies are in place, and they are,” he said, adding that the diocese has trained 4,000 people in child protection and conducted 2,000 background checks on those who work with children. “If not for the litigation, the diocese would have had an outstanding rating on compliance.”

But Quad-City attorney Craig Levien, who has filed seven lawsuits against the Davenport Diocese on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, questioned what differentiates Davenport from the many dioceses nationwide facing hundreds of such lawsuits.

“This is what the governing body of bishops said is necessary to protect the children. You would think they would make sure everything would be done to comply with the audit as did the other 190 dioceses across the country,” he added.

The Davenport Diocese submitted documents as part of its compliance audit, and the report listed that information as “non-verified.”

Victims advocate Barbara Blaine, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called the partial participation of the Davenport Diocese “a continuation of that same silence and secrecy” shown by its legal actions in Iowa courts.

“The bottom line is that the diocese and the bishop have the authority to do what they want to do,” she said. “The attorneys work for him, he doesn’t work for the attorneys. Bishops frequently hide behind their attorneys.”

The USCCB report called the Davenport Diocese “cooperative” and recommended an on-site compliance audit at the conclusion of the current litigation or any future litigation that disrupts the process. Horan said she feels certain the Davenport Diocese will be cooperative when it is audited.

“There’s a perception that the diocese has not been cooperative and that’s just not true,” said Rand Wonio, an attorney for the Davenport Diocese.

The report also states that the Davenport Diocese is one of six nationwide that did not participate in a second and potentially more important study, also commissioned by the bishops, that will attempt to tally every Catholic Church abuse case in the country since 1950.

More than 97 percent of dioceses nationally responded to that study, which is scheduled to be released Feb. 27.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Franklin said the diocese is taking strong steps to protect its children and believes it is compliant with the June 2002 USCCB policies, but he added that the privacy rights of victims must be protected.

The diocese already has said in court documents that a district judge’s ruling that it provide records compiled for the second study would force church leaders to reveal the identities of people who came forward with sex abuse complaints thinking they would remain confidential and anonymous.

The statement included an apology from Franklin to victims of abuse in the Davenport Diocese and an offer to meet with them and have the diocese work to help them recover from their wounds.

“I apologize and express sincere sympathy and sorrow for the victims of abuse by some priests of the diocese,” he said. “I do pray, and ask for the prayers of the community, that God will provide me with the wisdom and the compassion to truly be of help on their road of recovery. I ask for the tremendous gift of forgiveness for the harm and the damage that has been done in the lives of these victims and those of their families.”

Wonio said the apology did not necessarily go out to those who have alleged sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Davenport over the past 20 to 50 years in the civil lawsuits pending against the diocese.

“The lawsuits are currently being investigated by the diocese,” he added.

Levien said he has seen “a very vigorous legal defense denying responsibility” in all of the lawsuits he has filed against the diocese.


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