Bishop Accountability
  Iowa's Priest-Accusation Rate Trails Nation's
State's 2.6 Percent Figure Is Below the 4 Percent for U.S.

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
February 28, 2004

Iowa Catholic bishops' tally of child-molesting priests over the past five decades is lower than the national average announced this week.

A total of 2.6 percent of Iowa priests who served Iowa Catholics over the past 50 years allegedly sexually abused children, according to reports from the state's Catholic dioceses. The national average Friday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is 4 percent of clerics.

"Today marks another step in the accountability of the church in addressing the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy," said Bishop Joseph Charron of Des Moines. "We cannot change history; we know there are many people hurting as the result of multiple mistakes of the church."

The Catholic Church in Iowa has paid out more than $2 million to settle lawsuits, and there are at least 20 lawsuits pending against the dioceses, according to reports from Iowa's four Catholic dioceses.

Craig Levien, a Davenport attorney who is representing 10 men who claim they were molested by priests when they were boys, applauds the bishops conference for making an effort to survey the extent of the problem as reported in diocese files. However, he believes the survey is little more than an estimate because so many victims hesitate to come forward and may not report the abuse for decades.

"Catholics have come from believing that a priest would be the last person who would ever abuse a child to understanding that it was a widespread problem," Levien said. "For many men who were victims, when they get older they reach a point in their lives when they realize they should attempt to hold people responsible (who) they hesitated to confront before. They realize the publicity won't help them. They're doing it for their sons and nephews."

In recent months, Iowa bishops have reported statistics measuring the scope of the child sexual abuse scandal in their dioceses since 1950.

* Dubuque archdiocese: 67 people accused 26 priests of sexually abusing them when they were children. The diocese reported in December it had paid $716,200 for victim support, counseling and to settle lawsuits. All of the money was paid by insurance or by the accused priests. The diocese has "a couple" of lawsuits pending, according to Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque.

* Des Moines diocese: 30 people made allegations of sexual abuse against 11 priests. The diocese reported in December it had paid $680,500 in settlements to victims; $335,250 was paid by insurance, and $345,250 was paid from reserve funds. The diocese has recommended that three priests be defrocked. It has one lawsuit pending.

* Sioux City diocese: 33 allegations of child sexual abuse have been made against 10 priests. The diocese paid $235,061 in settlements, treatment and counseling. Of that, $43,790 was paid by insurers and $191,271 was paid by the diocese from unrestricted endowment earnings. The diocese has said two priests are facing canonical sanctions. Four lawsuits have been filed against the diocese.

* Davenport diocese: 65 allegations of abuse have been made against 20 priests and two lay persons. The diocese said this week it has spent $372,500 to settle lawsuits, all paid by insurers. The diocese has recommended to the Vatican that five priests be defrocked. Thirteen lawsuits have been filed against the diocese and accused priests.

"This is a sad day for us, but it is also a day of hope," Hanus said. "It calls us to recommit ourselves to doing all we can to prevent this from happening in the future."

To try to assure that there are no more victims and to protect children, all four Iowa dioceses have implemented a safe environment training program for thousands of church personnel and required criminal background checks for all priests, deacons, pastoral administrators, church staff and volunteers.

Individuals expressing an interest in becoming priests are more carefully screened, and the scrutiny continues all through seminary, according to the Rev. Scott Bullock, Dubuque archdiocesan director of seminarians.

"I would never suggest that the process is 100 percent foolproof from the perspective that we could rule out any possibility in the future, but I think it is very, very thorough," Bullock said.

Hanus, Charron and Bishop Daniel DiNardo of Sioux City expressed remorse for the pain suffered by victims and encouraged them to make themselves known so the diocese can offer assistance.

"While the news is certainly disturbing, it nonetheless reaffirms our commitment to do all we can to eliminate this evil," DiNardo said. "I reiterate my sincere apology to anyone who has been hurt by those among us."

Bishop William Franklin of Davenport declined to make a statement.


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