Bishop Cleared in 2002 Allegations

Associated Press, carried in Gazette
February 8, 2006

IOWA CITY, IA - A Roman Catholic Church investigation into abuse allegations naming retired Bishop Lawrence Soens concluded that his behavior may have been inappropriate, but did not appear to be sexual in nature, according to court documents filed this week.

The allegations were made in April 2002 by a former student of Regina High School in Iowa City, where Soens, who retired as bishop in 1998, served as principal from 1958 to 1967.

Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Diocese, after consulting with Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, appointed a team of church officials to investigate.

The team's confidential report and a letter to Soens from a high ranking diocese official summarizing the allegations were attached to a motion filed Monday in Scott County District Court.

The investigation focused on complaints that Soens more than once twisted the nipples of his accuser, referred to as "purpling." The former student also complained that Soens ran his finger up and down his testicles and described his interactions with Soens as "torturous," according to the report.

During the investigation, a school board member reported to investigators that while he was a student, Soens called him into the office on more than one occasion and pinched his testicles, using the thumb and forefinger, the report said.

The committee concluded that "some actions may have occurred which would not have been appropriate. It is much more difficult to begin to assess whether any actions were sexual in any way rather than a disciplinary method."

Members also determined that church policy for disciplining abusive priests did not apply because Soens was a bishop.

"However, in looking at the definition of sexual abuse in the (policy), we questioned whether any of this conduct described would be for the adult's gratification," the report said.

Soens has been named in two sexual abuse lawsuits, each filed by former high school students, but has denied all accusations through his attorneys. He has also been named in seven other claims subject to mediation with the diocese. In October 2004, the diocese in Davenport paid $20,000 to settle a separate sex abuse claim naming Soens.

Rand Wonio, attorney for the Davenport Diocese, said church officials responded quickly and appropriately, including a telephone call from Bishop Franklin and at least two meetings with the investigative committee.

"He was very satisfied with the response," said Wonio.

The former student is not a party to the lawsuits or mediated claims, Wonio said.

Craig Levien, a lawyer who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in sexual abuse claims against the diocese and some of its former priests, said the report is significant because it contradicts denials by church leaders that Soens had ever been investigated.

"The question also is whether there was ever any discipline," said Levien. "They've repeatedly said all information has been turned over to the Vatican, but we know of nothing that has been done with this."

Diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery said bishop discipline decisions rest solely with the Vatican.

"The report was thoroughly investigated and information was sent to the Vatican because the diocese has no jurisdiction over a bishop," Montgomery wrote Tuesday in an e-mail. "Every allegation involving Soens has been reported to the Vatican."

The church's handling of the allegations against Soens has frustrated victim advocacy groups, particularly reports that Soens recently participated in conducting Mass and other official acts.

Last week, leaders from three eastern Iowa groups met with church leaders and urged that Soens be barred from performing liturgical service and unsupervised contact with minors.


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