Davenport Diocese Hit with 14 New Abuse Claims

May 23, 2006

IOWA CITY (AP) --- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport was presented Monday with 14 new cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests, including seven new claims against the former bishop of the Sioux City diocese.

The claims accuse four priests who served in parishes throughout eastern Iowa dating back to the 1950s.

Each of the claims were filed by men and have been submitted to the diocese for mediation, said Craig Levien, an attorney representing the victims.

"The motivation behind many victims who come forward is they want the truth to come out about an abusive priest," Levien told The Associated Press. "And they feel the only way to get answers is to make a claim and seek the information from the diocese."

Diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery said church officials would have to review the claims before commenting, but said the diocese "apologizes for any abuse by clergy ... and will continue to help foster healing by survivors of abuse."

Of the new claims, seven name retired Sioux City Bishop Lawrence Soens. Each victim claims they were abused by Soens while he served as priest and principal at Regina Catholic High School, in Iowa City, during the 1960s.

Soens, who retired as bishop in 1998, has been named in 16 cases, including two lawsuits filed in Scott County District Court. Levien said those cases are scheduled for trial in Davenport in September and October.

Four of the victims accuse Monsignor Thomas Feeney, who was appointed vicar general for the diocese in 1968 but died 25 years ago. Earlier this month, the diocese acknowledged that Feeney sexually molested children in the 1950s and 1960s and encouraged victims to come forward.

Feeney has been accused in six cases altogether, including two lawsuits. The four new cases against allegedly occurred while he was priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral and St. Anthony's Parish in Davenport.

The other priests include William Wiebler, accused in two new claims while serving at a Bettendorf church, and Monsignor Carl Meinberg, accused in one case dating to his tenure at St. Mary's parish in Iowa City.

The 14 new claims are the latest involving priests with the Davenport diocese, the Iowa diocese hardest hit in the last four years by allegations that for decades its clergy sexually abused children.

When added to existing cases, the diocese now has 25 pending sexual abuse cases that it is either defending in court or negotiating a resolution through mediation, according to Levien.

In February, the diocese agreed to pay $870,000 to settle five claims of priest abuse. That high-priced settlement came after the diocese agreed in the fall of 2004 to pay $9 million to settle 37 cases of priest abuse dating back more than 50 years.

In validating claims against deceased priests, such as Feeney, Levien said it's important to match new claims against the pattern of those already acknowledged by diocese officials.

"In some instances, the details and information known by the church, the locations ... we've been able to identify a pattern of consistency in some of the things that were done, details that were not even described in newspaper accounts," Levien said.


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