Probe of Retired Bishop Began in '02, Papers Show
A Former Student and a Board Member at an Iowa City School Say They Were Victims of Abuse

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
February 8, 2006


"Confidential" letters and documents made public in court Monday say that the Davenport Catholic Diocese began investigating retired Bishop Lawrence Soens of Sioux City in 2002 after a former student repeatedly called a Catholic school.

During the inquiry, a member of the board of Regina High School in Iowa City corroborated the allegations, alleging that he, too, had suffered repeated abuse by Soens, according to papers filed in a lawsuit against Soens and the Davenport diocese in Scott County District Court.

Soens' attorney, Timothy Bottaro of Sioux City, said Tuesday he had not seen the court filing. He declined to comment except to reiterate that "Bishop Soens has denied these allegations."

Names of the former student who first alleged he was "tortured" by Soens and the school board member have been removed from the court papers, which include the confidential investigation summary and a letter written to notify Soens of the investigation.

The allegations date back to the mid-1960s, when Soens was principal at the Catholic high school. Ten men have made allegations against Soens, who was a priest in the Davenport diocese before becoming Sioux City bishop.

The man who called the school during an emotional crisis alleged that Soens would pinch his nipples, a practice called "purpling," due to the dark bruises that appeared on the boys' chests. The former student also said that Soens touched his testicles through his clothes.

During an April 8 meeting with Regina administration and staff, the school board member "reluctantly" reported that Soens called him into the office on more than one occasion when he was a student at the school and pinched his testicles between his thumb and forefinger, according to the investigation report.

Mike Dalton of West Branch, a former Regina student who settled with the Davenport diocese in 2004, said that Soens would catch a group of boys "talking to one another in the hall and come up behind one of the individuals, reach over the top of his shoulders with both hands and grab his nipples and pinch extremely hard."

"I don't know if he got sexual gratification from it or what," Dalton said.

Dalton, who received a $20,000 settlement from the diocese, said Soens would call him to the principal's office where he cornered him behind a desk and squeezed his genitals.

An investigation was launched after Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, former Sioux City Bishop Daniel DiNardo and Davenport Bishop William Franklin agreed that the the reports should be examined under the Davenport sexual misconduct policy, according to the court papers.

Former Davenport Vicar General Monsignor Drake Shafer, who in 2005 settled a lawsuit alleging he had sexually abused a minor, was among those who investigated the Soens allegations.

The group concluded that "some actions may have occurred which would not have been appropriate." However "it was difficult to begin to assess whether any actions were sexual in any way rather than a disciplinary method."

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

The lack of a mental health professional on the review panel likely led the diocese to reach a misleading conclusion, according to Craig Levien of Davenport, the attorney who filed court papers to have a judge order the diocese to turn over more information about Soens and the allegations.

The Rev. Ellery Duke, who is a clinical psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, said that some individuals derive sexual pleasure from inflicting pain.

"In a general sense, there seems to be some motivation beyond disciplinary," Duke said. "Inflicting that kind of pain (by purpling or pinching boys' testicles) is out and out abusive, whether it was purely physical or sexual."

Because the bishops had no way to sanction Soens, the report was compiled and sent to the Vatican, according to Rand Wonio, attorney for the Davenport diocese.


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