Priest Abuse Victim Feels Stronger after Settlement
By Pat Kinney
March 28, 2007
Waterloo — One of the nine victims who settled priest sex abuse claims with the Archdiocese of Dubuque Tuesday said the process was difficult, but she is glad she went through it.
"I do feel stronger having gone through this," said Rosalyn Zieser, 71, of Unity, Wis. "I just feel like someone has listened, finally, and I'm believed, and some restitution was made, and I'm valued now."
She spoke with the Courier after her attorneys and archdiocesan officials announced a $2.6 million settlement with the nine claimants. The archdiocese also agreed to pay for counseling. Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus also will issue public and private apologies to the victims, as he did with a similar $5 million settlement with 20 claimants in February 2006.
Zieser, who has lived in Wisconsin since 1976 and is the mother or six grown children, said she was abused at age 10 by the Rev. Patrick McElliott in the late 1940s when he was at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Monti, in Buchanan County.
"I lived a lot of years with the results of this," she said. "I still had to go to confession to McElliott for seven or eight years, and I still had to go on a couple of high school retreats he had."
She was confused by what had happened. "He was like God, so why did he do that?" she said. "My parents worshipped him like he was God. My sister told them (of the abuse) years later," in the early 1990s. "Our dad did not want to believe. He became pretty angry at my sister."
It caused a family rift for some time.
Zieser suppressed some feelings and memories. "It was in the late '80s, closer to the '90s, that I realized it was bothering me," she said. "It was in the late '90s that I realized what he did was wrong."
After leaving Monti, McElliott served as pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in Waterloo from 1954 to 1963, and was the subject of suits alleging abuse during his tenure there. Some of those suits were part of the 2006 settlement. He died in Waterloo in 1987.
Zieser and other claimants in Tuesday's settlement resolved their claims through mediation rather than litigation.
That process was difficult, Zieser said. She and the other claimants underwent two psychiatric evaluations to determine the level of abuse they had suffered. They provided videotaped accounts of their abuse and were questioned by archdiocesan counsel.
"With the process that everyone went through, there's no way that I would have continued if it weren't true," she said.
"Some people think we're trying to hurt the church by taking settlements. I needed to do this," Zieser said. "I really need to restore my confidence, my courage, my self-esteem. I really needed this restoration and this process.
"Archbishop Hanus finally listened," Zieser said. "I think he has a long way to go yet to reach out to everyone" who has been abused. "I don't think they've opened the floodgates yet."
Hanus has repeatedly apologized for past priest abuse and inaction by archdiocesan officials at a number of public events, and has offered to meet personally with victims. Hanus appointed a review board that drafted a policy on handling clergy sex abuse complaints following mandates of a 2002 Dallas bishops conference, created an Office for the Protection of Children, appointed victim witness coordinators to work with victims and instituted an anti-sexual-abuse training program for archdiocesan personnel.
While Zieser doesn't believe the archdiocese has totally opened up to victims, she has no regrets about the settlement process, however rigorous.
"I know I did all I could to fix this for myself," she said. "I'll never be sorry I went through this. I hope it'll give some courage to others. It opened up all the old wounds. But now, they'll heal better." She studied at Viterbo University in La Crosse and is working on a book on "strong women in the Bible" she is trying to get published.
The settlement included accusations against six priests involving incidents from the 1940s through the mid-1990s. Chad Swanson of Waterloo, one of the attorneys representing the claimants, noted his firm's press release on the settlement contained an error on the parish affiliations of one of the abusive priests. The late Rev. Joseph Patnode was alleged to have abused one of the nine victims in the early 1970s while he was at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Anamosa, not Nevada, as the original release indicated.
Contact Pat Kinney at (319) 291-1484 or Pat.Kinney@wcfcourier.com.
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