|Q-C Priests Apologize
By Kay Luna
A council of priests in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport issued a public apology Thursday to the victims of sexual abuse by clergy, calling the abuse a “gigantic betrayal of trust” that causes “unimaginable pain.”
Representatives of the Presbyteral Council, made up of more than 25 elected and appointed priests from the diocese that covers eastern Iowa, said they will focus on learning more about how to prevent such “hideous” abuse and strive to promote healing in their parishes.
Their statement comes after watching 11 lawsuits filed against the Davenport diocese in rapid succession since May. The lawsuits accuse certain priests of sexually abusing young children in the church 20-50 years ago.
“On behalf of my clients, we certainly are appreciative of the admission of the betrayal of trust,” said Quad-City attorney Craig Levien, who represents alleged victims who have filed lawsuits against the diocese in Scott and Clinton counties. “We look forward to the day the diocese takes responsibility for the abusive priests’ actions.”
David Clohessy of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, which has been critical of the Davenport diocese for its handling of the abuse allegations, also praised the priests for speaking out.
“Many, many priests have long been silent on this issue, so we’re grateful to see their support and goodwill. And frankly, many people — priests, victims, Catholic lay people — wish they had done more sooner, but we’re grateful for support from anyone at anytime,” Clohessy said. “Nobody needs to kick themselves because they didn’t act more quickly. The important thing is what you do now.”
The Rev. Robert McAleer, chairman of the Presbyteral Council and pastor at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bettendorf, said the council meets about five times per year. The group met last week, and he decided to bring up the idea of taking a public stand.
The council agreed, voting on the issue in the presence of the Most Rev. William Franklin, bishop of the diocese.
The group also pledged to devote the diocese’s Spring Priest Convocation, an educational conference for priests in April, to presentations by abuse victims and health care personnel regarding the issue.
“Believe me, this is such a shock to us,” McAleer said. “We need some great education if we’re going to attentively listen to people and minister to them and not make judgments.”
Franklin could not be reached by the Quad-City (IA) Times for comment, but diocese spokesman David Montgomery said he was pleased with the priests’ stance.
“I saw it as a support by the priests of the bishop and the actions he’s trying to take,” Montgomery said.
McAleer, a 59-year-old native of DeWitt, Iowa, and former pastor of 18 years in Fort Madison, said he and many of his friends in the priesthood have been “aching inside” when they hear about this kind of abuse.
He said he doesn’t understand why any priest would betray such a trust, and wants to take a proactive stance to reach out to those affected, many of whom he knows personally.
“We just want to start listening and start bringing some healing to the people who are hurting. It’s our whole life as ministers,” McAleer said. “As uncomfortable as it is and as hard as it is, we finally thought we needed to publicly as a group come out and speak.”
The Rev. Tony Herold, vice chairman of the council and pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, Iowa, said he is overwhelmed by the accusations and how they are impacting the community.
He said he has been touched by the bishop’s decision to reach out to hurting parishioners in DeWitt and Grand Mound, and wants to do the same for his own congregation.
In his letter for this week’s parish bulletin, Herold said he wrote that he can’t imagine the feeling of betrayal, the ongoing pain and extreme hurt of the victims of abuse.
“But my door is always open,” he said. “It’s unfathomable that clergy would abuse a trust like that. There’s no excuse. It’s a small minority, but it affects all of us.”
The controversy is spilling into other religious denominations, as well. Herold said as president of the Clinton Ministerial Association, he has been asked by a Lutheran pastor to attend a workshop with him about sexual abuse by clergy.
The presentation is meant “help us become more aware of the signs of people who may be predators and watch for those signs,” Herold said.
Levien, the Quad-City attorney representing alleged victims of abuse in the diocese, said it’s unfortunate that many innocent priests are finding “their abilities hampered because of the diocese’s refusal to disclose the names of the offending priests and take responsibility.”
The diocese announced this week it plans to release a public report of abuse by priests over the past 50 years once an internal review is completed.
A Clinton County judge ruled the information must be turned over to the court, as requested by Levien through the lawsuits, but the diocese filed an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court to get the decision overturned. Diocese officials said they couldn’t protect the names of alleged victims if they abided by the court order.
“The bad part about not publicizing the information, innocent priests
in good standing are affected by it, and that’s certainly not something
my clients want to have happen,” Levien said. “We applaud
these kinds of efforts.”
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