Bishop Accountability
  Priests Weigh in on Abuse Report

By Vanessa Miller
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 21, 2004

In the wake of sexual abuse allegations involving a Johnson County parish, local priests are reiterating the Catholic Church's sentiment that each incident is troubling and needs to be taken seriously.

"It's a concern, it's a grave matter," said the Rev. Rudolph P. Juarez, a priest with St. Patrick's Church, 228 E. Court St. "I hope justice can be done. I hope all those hurt can have healing brought about."

The case involving Johnson County surfaced after a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport recently was restricted from active duty pending results of an internal investigation into allegations that a boy was sexually abused in a local parish in 1998. Identities of the victim, the accused priest and the parish have not been released.

According to diocese attorney Rand Wonio, the Diocese Review Board could complete the internal investigation as early as next week, after which officials will decide whether to identify the priest and the alleged victim. Wonio said he thinks the alleged victim told another priest about the alleged abuse. That priest then told the diocese, who reported the claim to Assistant Johnson County attorney Anne Lahey on July 11, 2003.

Officials said the alleged victim has asked to remain anonymous and does not want to press charges.

While his office received notification about the allegations last year, Johnson County Attorney J. Patrick White said he just learned about the claims and will decide in the next couple of weeks how to proceed. If White moves forward with the prosecution, it would be the first of a priest in Johnson County since 1989.

'This brings it home. We've heard about it on a national level ...," Juarez said of the local allegations. "The church is not exempt from what happens in our society. It's not particular to the church, it happens in every strata of our society. But it seems higher profile because of what the church stands for."

Wonio said the accused priest has not been serving in the diocese for some time and was not at the Johnson County parish at the time the allegations were made. Because the alleged victim does not want to press charges, there has been little to no criminal investigation of the matter.

The Rev. Dennis Martin, a priest of St. Joseph Hall in West Liberty, said that while his parish is in Muscatine County, the cases in Johnson County are too close for comfort.

"It's one thing to read about it in Boston, and another thing to have it confronted with people in our area," Martin said. "This makes it more real, more immediate."

The Rev. Walter Helms, a priest with St. Thomas More Church, 108 McLean St., said that while he has no information about the Johnson County allegation, he thinks the church has implemented appropriate measures to address the situation.

"I think we are concerned about anytime anyone is abused. ... We are sad it happens," Helms said, adding that church officials have taken and continue to take steps to address past crimes and prevent them from reoccurring. "But I would say that now, in the wake of everything, the church is doing far more in terms of screening, training. ... They are working hard at it."

In 1989, officers arrested the Rev. James Leu for sexual abuse of minors while serving at St. Mary Church in Lone Tree. Leu, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, has not been reassigned since being released. The Diocesan Review Board recently suggested, in a recommendation sent to Rome, that his status be maintained, according to diocese records.

Helms said the training, screening and supervision implemented by the church has been effective and could serve as a model for other organizations and entities.

"It's part of society," Helms said. "But it's unfortunate when it happens among the people that are supposed to be the most trustworthy."


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