Advocates Say Diocese Lied about Soens

By Dustin Lemmon
Quad-City Times [Davenport IA]
February 9, 2006

Some sexual abuse victims and their supporters say they were lied to last week when told the Catholic Diocese of Davenport never investigated allegations of sexual abuse against retired Bishop Lawrence D. Soens.

They also are angry about the conclusion the diocese came to after completing an investigation, which found Soens' actions were inappropriate but may not have constituted sexual abuse.

Ann Green, of DeWitt, Iowa, whose husband is the victim of sexual abuse by a priest, said they were told during a meeting a week ago with the Iowa Catholic bishops in Des Moines that Soens never was investigated for abuse.

Soens retired as bishop of the Sioux City Diocese and was once principal of Regina High School in Iowa City in addition to holding a post at St. Ambrose University during the 1980s. A motion filed Monday in Scott County District Court by Craig Levien, a Davenport attorney representing three men in lawsuits against Soens, includes as an exhibit an undated investigation report to Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Diocese.

The report details efforts made by the diocese to investigate allegations against Soens that date to the 1960s, when he was a principal at Regina.

Rand Wonio, a Davenport attorney who represents the diocese, said there may have been a misunderstanding between the bishop and the victims and their advocates. Wonio said there never was a full investigation of all the allegations against Soens, just the first complaint that came in 2002.

Wonio said other accusations have not been investigated, but they have been sent to the Vatican for review.

"The bishop would have no reason to lie about that when this (report) has been in the hands of Craig Levien for months," Wonio said. "These people (the victims and their advocates) have been in close contact with Craig Levien."

Levien said Wednesday that while he supports the eastern Iowa abuse victims and their supporters, not all of them are his clients.

"I did not share or show that report to anyone before it was filed in court," he said.

Those who attended the meeting with the bishops insist they did not know about the report.

Ann Green said the report shows Soens was investigated under the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Policy - the same one used to investigate other area priests accused of sexual abuse.

"We asked specifically if an investigation has ever been conducted," she said. "They said no, that the policy doesn't apply to Mr. Soens."

John Whiston of Iowa City, a member of a group called Concerned Catholics, said he also was at the meeting and recalled Franklin being asked "two to three times" whether Soens was investigated and that his answer was "no" each time.

"I'm irate, I'm mad, I'm stunned that this would happen," Whiston said. "I have no idea what was going through Bishop Franklin's mind when he said no."

Those representing sexual abuse victims at last week's meeting were members of Catholics for Spiritual Healing of Grand Mound, Iowa; Concerned Catholics of the Davenport Diocese, Iowa City; and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

In addition to Franklin, other clergy present were Bishop Joseph Charron of the Des Moines Diocese, Archbishop Jerome Hanus of the Dubuque Diocese and a representative of the Sioux City Diocese.

Efforts by the Quad-City Times to reach Franklin for comment were unsuccessful. The Rev. Robert Gruss of the Davenport Diocese declined comment, saying the diocese had not seen a copy of the motion filed in court Monday.

The report included as an exhibit with Levien's motion refers to a "team" that investigated allegations made against Soens, which were first reported by the alleged victim in April 2002. Soens has denied all allegations against him. The team that investigated the former bishop was assembled by Franklin, according to an undated letter addressed to Soens that was included with the report.

Al Burke of LeClaire, Iowa, a member of Catholics for Spiritual Healing who also was at last week's meeting, said that letter proves to him the bishops were not honest with the victims.

"That was really frustrating to me to have the leaders of our church stand up and lie," he said. "I wish they'd be honest."

According to the report, the unidentified victim claimed Soens had twisted his nipples, causing what he termed "purpling," and lightly touched him below the waist. He claimed the alleged acts happened to other students as well.

In its report to the bishop, the team said some of the alleged acts were not appropriate, but questioned whether they were actual incidents of sexual abuse.

"It is much more difficult to assess whether any actions were sexual in any way rather than a disciplinary method," the report states. "We questioned whether any of this conduct described would be for the adult's gratification."

Ann Green and Whiston also questioned the report's findings.

"The fact that they can't determine that pinching and purpling is sexual abuse, that's very disturbing," she said.

"The investigation is an embarrassment," Whiston said, adding that he does not believe the investigation was thorough. "They came to the conclusion that this must be disciplinary. This is laughable."

The motion by Levien asks the diocese to reveal the names of witnesses who were blocked out in the reports. It was filed with another motion asking that the case be continued to June 1 to allow more time for preparation.

Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or


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