18 Abused by Priests to Split $4.7m Settlement

By Jeff Reinitz and Josh Nelson
Globe Gazette
April 10, 2008

WATERLOO — Eighteen people who were abused by Roman Catholic priests as children will split a $4.7 million settlement.

The resolution between the Archdiocese of Dubuque and the victims was announced this morning during a press conference at Dutton, Bruan Staack & Hellman law office in Waterloo.

This is the third group of victims represented by Waterloo attorneys Chad Swanson and Thomas Staack to reach an agreement with the archdiocese.

The abuse came at the hands of nine priests — most of whom have since died and were the subjects of two earlier settlements — and happened between 1947 and 1996.

New to the list are John Reed, who was posted at St. Mary's in Dubuque and allegedly committed abuse in 1963 and 1964; and Louis Wendling, who was at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, and allegedly abused a girl in 1947.

Other priests named in the settlement include Robert Swift, Timothy DeVenney, Robert Saunders, William Goltz, Robert Reiss, Allen Schmitt and Albert Carman.

DeVenney, the only one of the group to be convicted of criminal charges, and Schmitt, who was at Sacred Heart in Waterloo, are still alive. The claim regarding Schmitt in the current settlement involves alleged abuse at Sacred Heart in 1975.

Schmitt was the associate pastor at Sacred Heart from 1971 to 1977. It was his first assignment following his ordination. In 2002, Schmitt was relieved of his duties at three Waukon-area parishes after archdiocesan officials received word of an allegation involving a man who had attended the school at St. Patrick's Church in Cedar Rapids.

Schmitt had been assigned there from 1978 through 1981, and subsequently served at parishes in Marshshalltown and Protivin. Schmitt also was named in a 2007 settlement. Archdiocesan officials said last year that a preliminary canonical investigation of Schmitt's case has been sent to the Holy See in the Vatican for final disposition.

In addition to the financial settlement, the church will pay for up to 12 continuing therapy sessions per victim and grant each victim a private interview with Archbishop Jerome Hanus.

Many of the people from the first two groups have used the counseling, Swanson said.

"They realized that's something they need," he said.

The church also will update its Table of Accused Priests, which is posted on the Archdiocese Web site, to note updated dates of abuse and resolutions.

Wendling's entry will include a note that the Archdiocesan Review Board, which looked into a 1947 abuse claim against him, ruled the allegation hadn't been substantiated.

The Archdiocese added Reiss and Saunders to the table following their deaths.

As in earlier settlements, the Archdiocese will remove photos and names of the accused priests from public display in its facilities.

The agreement was hammered out between the church and the victims without the matter going to court. The victims underwent reviews by psychologists and were questioned under oath.

The settlement averages $261,000 per victim, although the actual amount each received varies depending on the circumstances of the abuse.

In 2007, nine clients of the firm settled for $2.6 million, and 18 settled for $5 million in 2006.

Altogether, the firm has represented 47 clients and won $12.3 million in claims.

Staack said there may be more victims out there, and members of the recent group said they hope that others who are struggling with the pain and shame of abuse will find the courage to come forward.

A release from the Archdiocese Thursday detailed the settlement, along with several safeguards to prevent further abuse. Among those were court-required notices published in its newspaper, The Witness, asking victims to come forward and contact legal or law enforcement personnel, allowing victims of abuse to speak at their home parishes if they chose to do so and paying for therapy for victims.

The release called the nine priests "a disgrace to the vocation and a scandal to the faithful," and said that the majority of clergy were "good and holy servants."

Hanus again apologized in a letter to victims Thursday.

"The trust in God and the Catholic Church and its leaders may have been weaked or destoryed because of the abuse you suffered," Hanus wrote. "I pray to god that it may be restored."

He also said all parishes were asked to include a notice in their bulletins letting people know April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, along with ways to prevent such abuse.

Jeff Reinitz and Josh Nelson are reporters for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.


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