Defrockings' Shock Waves Jolt Dowling Leaders, Alumni

By Tara Deering
DesMoines Register [Iowa]
September 20, 2003

Dowling Catholic High School officials and alumni expressed surprise and sadness Friday at news that two priests who had taught at the school will be defrocked because of sexual abuse allegations.

The Rev. Richard Wagner, 68, came to Dowling in 1965. He taught and then served as president of the high school from 1971 to 1976. The Rev. John Ryan, 79, was at Dowling from 1953 to 1965.

Wagner, Ryan and a third priest, the Rev. Albert Wilwerding, 73, will be removed from the priesthood at the recommendation of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese's Allegation Review Committee, diocesan officials announced Friday.

"You're kidding," said Dave Freylack, a 1973 graduate of Dowling, reacting to news that Wagner will be defrocked because of sexual abuse allegations.

"I was kind of friends with the guy," he said. "We chatted all the time and hung out. I never, ever would have thought anything like that. I always confided in the guy as a friend and never had any problems."

None of the alleged abuse occurred while Ryan and Wagner served at Dowling, diocesan officials said. They said Ryan was accused of abuse during his six years at St. Theresa Parish in Des Moines and Wagner was pastor at St. Mary's Parish in Red Oak when the alleged abuse occurred.

Dowling President John Deegan said the news came as a surprise to him and the entire Dowling community.

"We are disappointed to hear the news, and we are saddened," said Deegan, who has been Dowling's president since 2000.

Deegan said he had worked under Wagner during the five years Wagner served as the school's president.

"I was coming in as a young English teacher and he seemed to do a good job representing not only the school, but the community," he said. "In my impression, he handled his position very well."

Freylack, 48, said Wagner was a good teacher. He said throughout his entire childhood as a Catholic student he never witnessed any sexual abuse.

"I've been around priests my whole life," he said. "I was an altar boy. I lived it and I never saw anything like that transpire."

Despite some feelings of disappointment and shock, parents of Dowling students and alumni of the high school were cheering full force during Friday night's football matchup against rival Valley High School.

"We're all so concerned because our children attend a school where Father Wagner had been involved," said Tricia White, a 1982 Dowling High School graduate whose oldest son attends the school. White, of Des Moines, said she will keep her three sons enrolled in Des Moines Catholic schools. "We have very high respect for Bishop Charron and we're sure he will do all in his power to ensure the safety of our children, and we believe he has done that."

"It blows me away that presumably (Wagner and Ryan) are involved," said Rick Bruess, 52, a 1969 Dowling graduate. Bruess said his daughter is a senior at Dowling and his son graduated from the school five years ago. "They were always in the halls. We would talk to them all the time and they were as congenial as anybody."

Register staff writer Adam Morris and correspondent Vess Mitev contributed to this report.

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