Advocates for Victims Say Bishops Are Stonewalling

By Charlotte Eby
Sioux City Journal
February 21, 2006

DES MOINES -- Advocates for victims who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic clergy accused Iowa's four bishops of stonewalling during a meeting Monday to discuss a former bishop at the center of abuse allegations.

The groups want retired Sioux City Bishop Lawrence Soens, who is being sued for alleged sex abuse, to be prohibited from official church activities and to have no unsupervised contact with minors.

The groups saw Monday's meeting as a setback after a Feb. 2 meeting they called had an unprecedented discussion between bishops and victims rights groups. The bishops met with them for an hour and a half the first time, but cut Monday's meeting off after 30 minutes, they said.

Ann Green of DeWitt, who is a member of with Catholics for Spiritual Healing in Grand Mound, said they are upset Soens is still allowed to operate in a capacity of "honor and authority" in the church, celebrating masses and being involved in other church activities.

"We're concerned about the message that sends to Iowa children, and we're also concerned about the message that sends to survivors," Green said at a news conference on the steps of the Iowa Capitol.

The groups are asking that the bishops send a letter to Soens asking him not to have unsupervised contact with minors or to participate in church activities, among other requests.

Soens has been named in a lawsuit filed in Scott County District Court for allegedly sexually abusing a male student while he was a principal of Regina High School in Iowa City in the 1960s. The Davenport Diocese paid $20,000 to settle an abuse claim against Soens in October 2004, but other allegations have followed.

The bishops sent out a joint statement Monday saying they felt they should not respond as a group but were willing to meet individually with advocacy groups and victims.

"Each Iowa diocese has implemented extensive safe environment programs for the protection of children and for outreach to victims," the statement said. "Each diocese remains committed to protecting children. Each bishop remains committed to meeting individually with victims."

The statement said the groups and bishops disagree about how to respond to Soens, and that the spirit of Monday's meeting was different after the bishops were accused in media accounts of being dishonest during the previous meeting.

Green said there never had been a confidentiality agreement in place, just a request that the names of sexual abuse survivors stay confidential.

"They have portrayed themselves to the press and to the public that they are a changed church, that they want open and honest communication and transparency," Green said. "We went to them in good faith to ask for some help regarding Bishop Soens and they shut us down. And we want people to know that this is how the bishops are acting. This is what they're doing behind closed doors."

Sioux City Bishop Walker Nickless had been absent from the prior meeting because of the death of his mother. Green did not attribute his presence this time to the change in the meeting's tone.

"Bishop Nickless had very little to add to the conversation," she said.

Steve Thiesen of Hudson said the bishops told them any action against Soens would have to be taken by the Vatican.

"It really disheartened me," said Thiesen, who said he was abused by a nun as a child.

The victims' rights groups also are asking state lawmakers to lift statutes of limitations so criminal cases and lawsuits against clergy members reaching back years can move forward.

Charlotte Eby can be reached at (515) 243-0138 or


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