Survivors Encouraged after Bishops' Meeting

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
February 3, 2006

Advocates for survivors of sex abuse by priests came away from an unprecedented meeting with Iowa Roman Catholic bishops Thursday filled with hope and pleased that the prelates agreed to a second meeting.

The groups - Iowa Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Catholics for Spiritual Healing of Grand Mound, and Concerned Catholics of the Davenport Diocese - asked for 15 minutes to meet with the bishops when they were in Des Moines for the Iowa Catholic Conference legislative breakfast. The meeting lasted almost an hour and a half.

"We are very encouraged," said Ann Green of De Witt, the wife of abuse survivor Don Green. "We're not aware of any other place where bishops have sat down with survivors' groups as the Iowa bishops did."

The group met with Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, Des Moines Bishop Joseph Charron and Davenport Bishop William Franklin. Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless was represented by Monsignor Roger Augustine.

The advocates especially were concerned about the public ministry of retired Bishop Lawrence Soens of Sioux City, who has been accused of abusing several teenage boys while he was a priest and high school principal in the Davenport diocese in the 1960s. Soens has denied the allegations; the Davenport diocese paid $20,000 to settle one abuse claim against him.

The advocate groups requested that the bishops ask Soens to have no unsupervised contact with minors and to cease participating in any official liturgical capacity; publish a notice in parish bulletins, diocesan and church Web sites and diocesan newspapers informing Catholics of the abuse allegations against Soens and release the same information to the secular press; encourage anyone with information about possible abuse by Soens to contact law enforcement; and provide the advocate groups' phone numbers to parishioners.

The bishops said after the meeting that they will consider the advocates' requests and agreed to meet with them again.

"The bishops were very respectful," said Bill LaHay, a member of the Des Moines survivors' network chapter. "I believe this is a real turning point for the abuse survivors and the Catholic Church in Iowa."


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