Retired Bishop Faces Allegation

By Barb Ickes
Quad-City Times [Iowa]
August 17, 2005

A long-time Catholic priest who served for more than 15 years in the Quad-City area before being named bishop of the Sioux City Diocese is being sued for the second time in three months under sexual abuse allegations.

The Catholic Diocese of Davenport and a Catholic high school in Iowa City also are named in a seven-count lawsuit filed this week in the Iowa District Court for Scott County by Dennis Allen, identified only as a resident of Iowa.

In the lawsuit, Allen claims he was the victim of the Rev. Lawrence D. Soens, who used his principal's office at Iowa City Regina High School to sexually abuse male students.

A Florida man filed a similarly worded lawsuit in June, alleging sexual abuse by Soens and naming the Davenport Diocese and Regina High as co-defendants.

Among his posts in the Davenport Diocese, Soens was vice-rector for the college-level seminary at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, from 1952-54. He was rector of the seminary from 1967-75.

And he was pastor at St. Mary in Clinton from 1978-83, when he was named bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City.

Soens is now retired.

Allen claims in his lawsuit that he was abused by Soens during the priest's final year at Regina High School. The lawsuit further alleges the abuse continued in Davenport and accuses the Diocese of Davenport of failing to do anything about it, even though diocesan officials were aware of the allegations.

"Bishop Soens continued his sexually perverse acts at St. Ambrose," the lawsuit states. "The Diocese of Davenport knew of these acts and yet still recommended his promotion to bishop."

Soens was appointed bishop of the Sioux City Diocese by Pope John Paul II in 1983 and served until retiring in 1998.

At least three complaints were filed against Soens in the past, which Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Diocese acknowledged in January. In October, the diocese paid $20,000 to settle a claim against Soens.

Allen's lawsuit is the third to be filed against the Davenport Diocese since it agreed in October to pay $9 million to settle more than three dozen claims of sexual abuse by priests. The latest action contains counts of assault and battery, sexual abuse, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty.

Soens' attorney, Tim Bottaro of Sioux City, said Tuesday that the retired bishop had not yet been served with the lawsuit and said he was not in a position to comment on it.

Jim Wharton, spokesman for the Diocese of Sioux City, had not yet heard of the latest charges, either, but repeated the statement he made when the first action was reported.

"There was not a single hint, not a single complaint of any sexual abuse during the time Bishop Soens was in Sioux City," he said. "We'll continue to try to work our way through this."

He also predicted Soens would continue to maintain his innocence.

Rand Wonio, the attorney for the diocese, said the lawsuit was the first time they had heard of Allen's claims.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Bishop Franklin stated that, "All sexual abuse by anyone is horrendous, especially to children by clergy. I am profoundly sorry and express my deep apology to the victims from the entire Catholic community."

The latest action contains wording that is identical to that included in the lawsuit filed in June by Michael Gould of Florida. Both men are represented by Davenport attorney Craig A. Levien.

Both men claim the priest used his position of authority, and his principal's office in Iowa City, to molest minor boys. In both lawsuits, Soens is accused of "unzipping plaintiff's pants and fondling him while claiming to reprimand the plaintiff for misconduct which was alleged, but which was untrue."

Levien said Allen, who is now in his early 50s, described the same incidents of molestation as Gould described. He said the men chose legal action over mediation because they want access to Soens' records that are maintained by the Davenport Diocese.

"We need to be in the position to force the production of documents and to force Soens to answer questions under oath," he said. "We may be ready to mediate these cases at some time."

Wonio said that like in all of these types of cases, "Mr. Levien will serve massive requests for information and we'll respond to those. But we'll also request detailed information about his clients' claims and and we'll go from there. We intend to exercise our right to investigate the veracity of these claims."

He said it is too bad Levien and his clients, "didn't want to try mediation first, instead of expensive, stressful and time-consuming litigation."

A Davenport man who has filed a lawsuit against the Davenport Diocese recently told the Quad-City Times that he also was molested by Soens, though the former bishop is not named in the lawsuit.

Michl Uhde said Soens kicked him out of seminary school after he reported to authorities that the priest had molested him.