Bishop Accountability
  Bishop's Statement a Profile in Courage

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
February 28, 2004

Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Catholic Diocese did a good thing this week when he released the results of a diocesan search of 50 years of personnel records for allegations of child sexual abuse by priests.

In a one-hour press conference, the Iowa diocese with the worst reputation for secrecy became the state's best example of transparency as promised by Catholic bishops two years ago.

It is a gratifying transformation that was exciting to report. Catholic bishops are their own men, answerable only to God and the pope. They are not accustomed to criticism or being second-guessed. And those who are serving today must not only stand accountable for their own administrative decisions but also for those of the bishops who served before them, most of whom are dead.

With that in mind, Franklin's press conference was a profile in humility and courage.

Consider the Davenport diocese's embattled record over the past year or so. It is the most-sued diocese in the state, with 13 clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits pending. It was singled out in a national audit report issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the only diocese to send the auditors (former FBI agents) away empty-handed. It declined to participate in the U.S. bishops' national survey measuring the scope of 50 years of sexual misconduct by priests.

The diocese has been the favorite whipping boy of national victims advocate groups like Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Finally, the bishop received criticism from his own, when the parish council of Saints Philip and James parish in Grand Mound wrote a letter chiding him for not being responsive and open.

Then, the diocese whose strategy seemed to be riding out the storm, called a press conference and let the sun shine on its records, including some that were found in a locked safe in the dark recesses of the chancery basement.


Diocese Attorney Rand Wonio chose his words carefully when asked how and why Franklin and other diocesan officials made such a from-night-to-day reversal.

"It was a lot of things," Wonio said. "The bishop and the diocese have been sailing in uncharted waters. All of this is new. All of us have been on a harsh learning curve to decide what to do. Everybody needed answers and deserved this information. It was decided this was the right thing to do and that's why it was done."

Apparently the Des Moines diocese came to the same conclusion last September when it announced it was recommending three priests for laicization and was investigating another set of allegations. Albert Wilwerding, 73, John Ryan, 79, and Richard Wagner, 68, have agreed to cooperate in the process of being defrocked.

So if Des Moines Bishop Joseph Charron and the battered Davenport diocese can name priests, give specifics about allegations and give an accounting of how abusive priests were removed and returned from the ministry, what's the problem in the Dubuque and Sioux City dioceses?

Both have released statistics about the extent of clergy sexual misconduct since 1950. But they have left the identities of abusive priests open to gossip and speculation.

Sioux City Bishop Daniel DiNardo in January reported that since 1950, the diocese received 33 allegations of sexual abuse against 10 priests. Of those, six have died, one left the priesthood, one is in a supervised setting and two have been removed from the priesthood and "subject to further canonical penalties." Who are these men?

The public knows the Rev. George McFadden, who is named in several lawsuits, "retired" after being accused of sexual misconduct. According to press reports he moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., "to get away from it all."

Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus reported in December that since 1950, 12 women and 55 men claimed they were sexually abused by priests. And that 26 priests were accused "in a serious way."Of those, 18 are deceased, one was "dismissed from a clerical state," five are of advanced age, one was criminally prosecuted and currently is on parole, and one has been removed from ministry. Who are these men?

The Rev. Timothy DeVenney, former pastor at St. Colmbkille parish in Dubuque, pleaded guilty to abusing teenagers. In an interview with the Telegraph Herald, Hanus mentions DeVenney, Allen Schmitt and Michael Fitzgerald as priests removed from parishes because of allegations of sexual abuse. But there is no way of telling if they are the priests in the archdiocese's statistical reports.

It is fair to ask DiNardo and Hanus to identify all of the priests, what sanctions were brought against them by which bishops and where they are today. Both dioceses owe Catholics and the public the who, what, when, where and why.


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