Vatican Visit Helps Moline Man Heal

By Dustin Lemmon
Quad-City Times [Moline IL]
November 26, 2006

While visiting the Vatican last week, Bill Christman of Moline delivered a letter to the pope about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a former Quad-City area priest and spoke with a high-ranking official from the church about clergy abuse.

Christman said he was abused by William Wiebler, who died in September, and was one of the first local abuse victims to come forward in 2002.

Last year, Christman won a $180,000 settlement from the diocese and in the process started a reconciliation with the church through the help of the Rev. Bob Gruss, chancellor of the Davenport Diocese, and the Rev. Richard Barclift of St. Patrick's Parish in Andalusia, Ill.

Gruss and former Davenport Diocese Bishop William Franklin wrote letters to the Vatican to help arrange Christman's meeting with Msgr. Robert Deeley, an official with the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.

Christman sat down with Deeley for a one-on-one meeting Nov. 14 and shared his story from the abuse to the church's reaction to his allegations. He also told him about the apology Gruss gave him at a mediation hearing in 2005 and about the friendship he developed with Gruss afterward.

"I gave him my view of how victims should be helped in the future to bring about the same kind of healing," Christman said. "I can't guarantee each victim is going to receive it the way I did."

Christman said he became angry with the Davenport Diocese after it moved Wiebler to the St. Louis area without telling him and failed to address his complaints about the abuse.

Deeley was receptive and told Christman that church leaders could have done a better job of handling his case. He also was critical of local church leaders for arranging a meeting between Wiebler and Christman with the bishop present, Christman said.

"He said I was just one of a handful in the country who sat down with the one who abused them," Christman said. "He said in some cases it may do more harm than good."

Following his meeting with Deeley, Christman submitted a letter to Pope Benedict XVI and received a phone call later informing him that the letter was hand-delivered.

Bob Noonan, an author from Canaan, Maine, who is writing a book about Christman's experience, joined Christman and Barclift on the trip. He said after the meeting with Deeley, Christman was pleased with the outcome and found Deeley to be sincere.

Noonan said a problem for victims is they deal with the church as an institution and it often ignores them, but they don't always get to talk to individual church leaders about their experience.

With Deeley, Christman "had talked to a guy that was really down to Earth," Noonan said, noting Deeley wore informal black pants and a shirt to the meeting. "He wasn't pompous."

During the one-hour meeting, Deeley also told Christman that it's been only within the past four or five years that the church has come to realize the emotional impact the abuse has on victims, Noonan said. Deeley also told Christman that Pope Benedict XVI has taken a hard stance on abusive priests by speeding up the process to have them defrocked.

"His reaction to priests who've committed abuse is that he wants them gone," Noonan said of the pope.

The experience left Christman happy that he made the trip to Rome.

"I just received a lot of personal attention," Christman said. "I was very pleased."

Noonan, who was raised Catholic, said that before hearing Christman's story and traveling to Rome, he was cynical toward the church and its reaction to the abuse scandal.

"This has kind of opened up my eyes a bit," he said.

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


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