Bishops, Victims Will Meet Next Week
By Dustin Lemmon
Quad-City Times [Iowa]
February 17, 2006
Three groups who represent victims of sexual abuse by priests will meet Monday for a second time with Iowa Catholic bishops.
But accusations that Davenport Bishop William Franklin lied at the last meeting drew his response Thursday.
The victims and their supporters first met with the bishops Feb. 2 in Des Moines, but Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Sioux City Diocese was unable to attend because he was at his mother's funeral in Colorado.
Bishop Joseph Charron of the Des Moines Diocese, Archbishop Jerome Hanus of the Dubuque Diocese and a representative of the Sioux City Diocese attended the first meeting with Franklin.
The victim support groups involved are Catholics for Spiritual Healing, Concerned Catholics of the Davenport Diocese and Iowa SNAP, or the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
After the last meeting victims and their supporters accused Franklin of lying when asked whether retired Sioux City Bishop Lawrence D. Soens ever had been investigated for sexual abuse.
Franklin reportedly told the victim support groups that the former principal of Regina High School in Iowa City, who also held a post at St. Ambrose University during the 1980s, never was investigated.
According to court records made public last week, Soens was investigated by the Davenport Diocese over allegations of sexual abuse. The report was filed in a lawsuit in Scott County District Court that accuses Soens of sexually abusing three men when they were boys. Church officials claimed there was a misunderstanding at the meeting but the victims and their supporters said they were lied to.
In a letter to the editor sent Thursday to the Quad-City Times, Franklin said he was hurt by the allegations that he lied to the victims and commented about the investigation of Soens.
"All I can say is that I have not been an active participant in any investigation and had forgotten that it had taken place almost four years ago," he said in an excerpt from the letter. "If my forgetfulness has offended anyone, I am sorry."
Franklin said the diocese has received several allegations of sexual abuse against Soens stemming from his time as Regina's principal from 1959 to 1967.
"There has never been a full scale Canonical investigation performed, nor does the Diocese of Davenport have the right or authority to perform such an investigation," he said in a portion of the letter. "Only the Vatican has jurisdiction over the conduct of a bishop. The reports of sexual abuse against Bishop Soens have been sent to the Papal Nunciature to the United States for its recommendations and only the Vatican can take any action against him."
Ann Green of DeWitt, Iowa, a member of Catholics for Spiritual Healing, was at the first meeting with the bishops and was one of many people angered last week when the new report was filed in the lawsuits against Soens.
Green said Thursday that she doesn't plan to bring up the investigation at Monday's meeting. She had not seen the letter Franklin wrote. She said now that all four bishops will be present she wants to focus on the requests they made at the previous meeting.
"None of the bishops felt they could speak on behalf of Bishop Nickless," she said. "Now it's time for us to get to the meat of it."
Steve Theisen, director of Iowa SNAP, said some of the requests the victims and their advocates made at the first meeting were not immediately addressed because Nickless was absent. Theisen also missed the first meeting but plans to attend Monday's conference, which will be at 2:30 p.m. at the State Capital Building.
"It's the first time we've been able to get all four bishops together," he said. "I think the big thing is to see if they even respond to the requests we left the last time. I hope the discussions continue and I hope they progress."
The victims want the bishops to ask Soens to refrain from contact with minors and to tell him he is no longer welcome at liturgical or church functions. They also ask that the Catholic community be informed about Soens alleged acts of abuse through diocesan newspapers and church bulletins and through a joint press release to the secular press. Lastly, they ask for more meetings and an announcement about SNAP and other support groups in all diocesan newspapers and church bulletins.
Green said the last meeting lasted over an hour, but originally was scheduled for just a half-hour. She hopes Monday's meeting also will generate a lot of discussion.
"We're very encouraged that they're willing to meet with us again," she said. "We're encouraged we have this open discussion."
Theisen said he is hopeful that the discussions with the bishops will continue.
"I think it's going to be meeting by meeting," he said of planning the sessions. "We will ask for another meeting."
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at
(563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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