Sins & Silence
Trusted Priests Betrayed Innocents

By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 5, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

It wasn't supposed to happen here.

When Roman Catholic priests did bad things to children, it occurred someplace else. Like Boston. Or Los Angeles. Or Chicago. It couldn't happen in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

But it did.

Priests did prey on children and teenagers, and robbed them of their innocence. Bishops, sometimes with the best of intentions, enabled the criminals by transferring them to other churches and schools, where unsuspecting Catholics welcomed the priests into their parish and their homes.

The worst predators were sent away to be treated, but afterward they often went to new assignments in new parishes, where they resumed the abuse of children. Eventually, some were removed from the priesthood.

On the occasions when they spoke up, victimized children were seldom believed. If their stories weren't disregarded by their devout parents and loyal teachers, the threat of physical harm or excommunication brought about silence.

[Click timeline to zoom.]

Rumors died quickly, whispered gossip was written off and few dared to believe that anything so heinous could be happening.

If, as adults, victims did speak out, settlements were crafted in secret. Secrecy was a stipulation.

Much has changed since the dark days of the 1950s and '60s, when most of the reported abuse took place. Today, church officials have far fewer priests to watch over. Seminaries are vetting and training their students much differently. Stringent archdiocesan policies are in place—for clergy and laity—regarding the sexual abuse of minors. Settlements are disclosed and victims are allowed to talk publicly about their ordeals.

Many Cases Sealed

The Archdiocese of Dubuque says 47 priests have been "credibly" accused of sexual abuse of minors since the 1930s.

Seventeen of those have been publicly identified. The rest have not for several reasons, according to the archdiocese:

• The accusations have not been proven or admitted to or submitted to a civil court or a church legal process;

• The accusations came through medical records (restricted by civil law);

• The accusations came through the sacrament of confession (restricted by church law).

Of the publicly identified cases, four were reported to have occurred in the 1940s, six in the 1950s, seven in the 1960s and four in the 1970s.

No incidents in the 1980s were reported.

The one incident reported from the 1990s was the widely publicized case of the Rev. Tim DeVenney. In 1997 DeVenney was sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence for molesting teenage boys at Dubuque's St. Columbkille School between 1993 and 1995.

The archdiocese has not reported any accusations of active abuse since DeVenney's. In 2002, the Rev. Allen Schmitt was removed from his parish and his priestly activities were restricted due to claims that he abused several minor males in the 1970s.

Today through next Sunday, the Telegraph Herald will look at how sexually predatory priests managed to abuse the children of the Archdiocese of Dubuque for decades, how the archdiocese responded then and what it is doing now to protect its innocents.

We will talk to victims and examine the abusers. We will see how the scandal has affected Catholics and clergy alike. We will look at the role and involvement of victim support groups, and we will address the issue of forgiveness.

Today A Culture of Catholicity – The Archdiocese of Dubuque encompasses a large geographic area where nearly one in four people is Catholic. The "culture of Catholicity" throughout the archdiocese will be examined, as will what role that culture played in clergy sexual abuse.

Monday Victims Tell Their Stories – Some of the men and women who were sexually abused by priests describe their experiences, how their church handled it and how they are coping.

Tuesday Unholy Fathers – Who were these clerics who used children to satisfy their sexual urges? When it came to predatory priests, the Rev. William Schwartz, the Rev. Robert Reiss and the Rev. William Goltz were infamous.

Wednesday Raising the Bar – Church officials now rely on a series of screenings to weed out potentially abusive priests. Prospective priests face a battery of tests, psychological analyses and questions about their sexual history just to gain admittance to the seminary.

Thursday Are the Children Protected? – Today, the Archdiocese of Dubuque is a much different and—its leaders hope—a much safer place for children. What policies have been put into place to protect children? If abuse does occur, how will it be addressed? The current archbishop took swift action against two abusive priests in the past decade. Also, a look at the civil settlement process—then and now.

Friday The Effect on the 'Good and Holy' – How has the scandal affected the vast majority of priests who are "good and holy?" Catholic laity has also been shocked and saddened by the scandal. Have they given up on their church, or are they recommitted to healing it?

Saturday The Support Groups – What groups have emerged to comfort and advocate for victims and their families?

Sunday Apology and Forgiveness – What inspired Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus to write his recent, heartfelt public apology? Is there room for forgiveness in any of this?


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