Former Sioux City Bishop Named in Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

Associated Press, carried in Des Moines Register [Iowa City IA]
June 8, 2005

Iowa City, Ia. — A former principal of Regina High School who later went on to become bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City was accused of abusing a former student in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit names retired Bishop Lawrence Soens and the Diocese of Davenport, which last fall paid $9 million to settle 37 lawsuits that accused several eastern Iowa priests of sexual abuse at various times and parishes in the last 50 years.

Soens, who was not named in any of the lawsuits covered by the settlement, is accused of molesting a student more than 40 years ago while serving as principal and priest at Regina, in Iowa City.

The victim, who was younger than 18 at the time, claims the abuse began in 1963, with the improper behavior sometimes taking place in the principal's office and others when Soens arranged to meet with the student under the pretext of investigating incidents of student misconduct.

''Bishop Soens identified the (victim) as a young male child, sought and gained the trust and confidence of plaintiff as a spiritual guide, pastor, educator and priest,'' the lawsuit states. ''Soens, while using his position of authority, trust, reverence and control ... engaged in repeated harmful and illegal sexual contact with plaintiff.''

The lawsuit, filed in Scott County District Court, also blames the Diocese and church officials for failing to investigate sex abuse claims and engaging in a pattern of covering up the illicit behavior of its priests.

The victim has suffered severe emotional and mental distress, bouts with guilt, shame and depression and only recently was able to recognize the relationship between his emotional condition and past abuse.

Soens' attorney, Timothy Bottaro, said the former Bishop denies the allegations but declined further comment, citing state ethics rules governing attorneys.

The lawsuit is the first that names Soens, but it is not the only time in his 48-year career in the clergy that he has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Earlier this year, Davenport Bishop William Franklin reported that Soens' had been the subject of three separate sexual abuse allegations, one of which was settled out of court last fall for $20,000.

Those allegations also dated from his tenure as high school principal and significant because it marked the first time allegations of sexual misconduct had been leveled at a someone who had reached such high ranking status with the church in Iowa.

Soens was appointed priest and the first principal at Regina in 1959 and served in Iowa City until 1967. He was then elevated to Rector at St. Ambrose College in Davenport and later served as priest in Clinton.

In 1983, he was appointed by the late-Pope John Paul II as Bishop of the Sioux City Diocese, and last fall, one month after the diocese paid his sexual abuse claim, met with and was honored by Pope John Paul II.

Soens retired in late 1998 and lives in Sioux City.


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