Priest with Most Allegations Remains in Clergy
The church should have defrocked the Iowan, some of his alleged victims say

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
January 15, 2006

Mary Ankenbrand and her sisters spent Christmas rejoicing at news that the Catholic priest they accused of abusing them as children finally had been removed from the priesthood.

Their vindication was premature.

George McFadden, a retired Sioux City cleric accused by at least 25 people of sexually abusing them as children, remains a priest.

Despite the fact that he has been accused of sexual abuse by more men and women than any other Iowa priest in the past 50 years, despite his admitting to his superiors that he had "committed harmful acts," despite his bishop's recommendation that he be removed from the priesthood, despite Vatican decisions to defrock other Iowa priests with fewer allegations, McFadden, 80, will die a priest.

The Vatican, citing McFadden's advanced age, last month forbade him to have any public ministry or contact with children, and ordered him to live a life of prayer and penance.

"I read that and thought it meant he had been defrocked," said Ceil Sokolowski, their mother.

When Ankenbrand learned the priest had merely been ordered to a life of prayer, she was stunned.

"There is no justice in that, none at all," said Ankenbrand, 53, of Omaha. "He should be in prison. He was the ultimate predator abuser, yet the church made us feel like we were the dirty one, the bad one. It shouldn't be that way."

Ankenbrand is one of the three Sokolowski girls from a devout Catholic family who lived near St. Francis of Assisi church and elementary school in Sioux City.

While pastor at St. Francis, McFadden, who was never charged with a crime, allegedly operated an informal program whereby young girls would be called to the parish rectory under the guise of doing errands or simple tasks for the priest. When they were alone, he performed sex acts on the girls against their will or coerced them to engage in sex, Ankenbrand's 2004 lawsuit charged.

"He was at our house all the time," said Sokolowski. "He would bring the youth collection to our house for me to count it. He would tell me to have the girls bring it back to the rectory when I was finished."

McFadden was also accused of sexually abusing young boys. On Friday, a former altar boy who grew up in Immaculate Conception parish in Sioux City filed a lawsuit alleging he was abused by McFadden.

Reached Friday evening at his home in Fort Wayne, Ind., McFadden said he never harmed anyone. "It's a bunch of lies," he said. "As long as (the diocese) will pay people money, it's going to continue. It ruined me, and I can't do anything about it."

Victims' advocates say the Vatican ruling in the McFadden case is just the latest puzzling decision from Rome on discipline of priests with credible allegations of child sexual abuse against them.

"It's hard to figure out the Vatican's policy because there's no consistency," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Roman Catholic priest and victims' advocate who holds a pontifical doctorate in canon law.

"The Vatican is out of touch," Doyle said. "I don't think they understand what is going on over here. I don't think they even care."

The Vatican cited McFadden's age, the fact that he had been removed from active ministry since 1991 and that he had expressed contrition as reasons he was more mildly sanctioned, said Monsignor Mark Duchaine, a church law expert who works with the diocese's sexual misconduct board. This is the first time an Iowa diocese has made public more detailed information about such Vatican rulings.

Decades of hidden allegations of sex abuse by priests have swept the country since the scandal broke in Boston in 2002.

In Iowa's Davenport Diocese, James Janssen, 83, accused of sexually assaulting about a dozen young boys in six parishes over three decades, was defrocked in 2004.

Bishop William Franklin's request that Francis Bass, 83, of Davenport, be removed from the priesthood is still pending. Bass was alleged to have sexually abused at least a half-dozen boys in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. In addition, Bass was accused of sharing his victims with Janssen. The priests took young boys to nude parties and the Chicago morgue, gave them alcohol and encouraged group masturbation, according to court records.

Both Bass and Janssen have denied the abuse in lawsuits against them.

Last week, the Dubuque Archdiocese reported that Pope Benedict XVI had in November removed William Schwartz, 73, from the clergy. Schwartz was accused of befriending and then sexually abusing teenage boys. The Vatican gave the prayer and penance sanction to retired priest William Goltz, 80, also an archdiocese priest, who was accused of sexually abusing several boys in the 1950s.

"It's easy to see the Vatican is wildly inconsistent," said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

Clohessy said American Catholics generally are not told why and how these decisions are made.

"The Catholic laity doesn't know what priests the Vatican is being asked to sanction. They don't know what the bishops are recommending. We don't know why some get no sanctions, some get minimal sanctions and some get removed from the priesthood. If sanctions are imposed, it is often months before it's announced. And there seems to be absolutely no monitoring of these prayer and penance guys," Clohessy said.

The "ridiculous" prayer and penance sanction is of little comfort to abuse survivors, Clohessy said.

"In all the years I've been doing victims' advocacy, I've never had a victim call me and say they were relieved and gratified that the man that sodomized them is supposed to pray more now," Clohessy said.

Father Doyle believes the prayer and penance sanction is "nothing."

"In the Middle Ages, there were priests sanctioned to prayer and penance into an ecclesiastical prison," Doyle said. "What will happen is McFadden will live in comfortable retirement. He can sit and watch TV and drink beer and his needs will be taken care of. The victims wanted more."

About two dozen lawsuits were filed against McFadden and the Sioux City diocese alleging child sexual abuse.

Duchaine, the church law expert, said former Sioux City Bishop Daniel DiNardo recommended that the Vatican "deprive McFadden of the clerical state." Rome handed down a lesser sentence.

"I remember that they mentioned the fact that he repeatedly expressed sincere contrition for these offenses. They took that into account," Duchaine said.

If McFadden told Catholic hierarchy he was sorry, he never shared that with his victims, some said, pointing to a 2003 Fort Wayne Journal Gazette article in which the priest said he moved there to be near family and get away from the "sad situation" in Sioux City.

"It's just an allegation and they keep chasing me," McFadden said. "I've never been arrested or charged."

McFadden was a priest at six northwest Iowa parishes before he was forcibly retired in 1992, when the diocese reported the first allegations of sexual abuse were made against him. Even then, he continued to hear confession and say public Mass daily at the Cathedral of the Epiphany, Sioux City's largest Catholic church, something DiNardo later said "was wrong."

Victims' parents have said they told priests McFadden had sexually abused their children long before his retirement. The diocese denied receiving the information earlier.

The Rev. John Bambrick, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Manalapan, N.J., has said he was abused as a child by his parish priest. Now that the man he accused of abuse has been removed from ministry, he's out in the world without oversight. Bambrick has taken on the task of reducing the opportunities Gale Leifeld has to harm others.

Leifeld "gets jobs as a Catholic chaplain in hospitals or health care facilities," Bambrick said. "I write the CEO. They terminate him. It's not good public relations to have a known abuser on the staff of a hospital."

Bambrick wants the Catholic hierarchy to acknowledge abuser priests' crimes and exercise some kind of control over them.

"They're out there running around, getting jobs around children, living near schools," Bambrick said. "At the very least, the U.S. bishops' conference should establish a national Web site with all the abusers' names on it," he said. Then companies would have a place to do a background check to see if the job applicant is suitable for hiring."

Duchaine said people should not discount the punishment connected to the prayer and penance sanction. A serious aspect of the punishment was being banned from priestly associations and being unable to publicly celebrate the sacraments.

"Because they can no longer present themselves as priests by their dress, word or any other means, they have lost their position of privilege," Duchaine said. "They are excluded from priestly associations and friendships. They know their fellow priests are aware of their offenses and that they lost their brother priests' esteem and confidence."

Father Doyle believes the rulings dribbling out of the Vatican may be misdirected.

"Frankly, the people who should be practicing prayer and penance are the bishops who caused the scandal, the bishops who knew about it and kept it secret," Doyle said. "They're pointing the finger at the priests when it was their desire to avoid scandal that got us to this place. It's offensive to anyone who has half a brain."

Ankenbrand wonders if her family will ever feel whole again. Her parents, brother and sisters have all left the Catholic church. She and her sisters are in therapy.

"We've lost so much," Ankenbrand said. "The church was our whole center, life and being. Now my siblings have chosen other faiths. I'm not attending church. If you've been abused by your priest, you can't pass your faith on to your children and you can't leave them alone with religious people, that's for sure."

Religion Editor Shirley Ragsdale can be reached at (515) 284-8208 or


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.