Archdiocese Faces Criticism

By Christopher Burbach
The World-Herald
April 6, 2011

A man and woman who say they were sexually abused by Iowa priests as children called Tuesday for more reforms in the Roman Catholic Church.

Tim Lennon of San Francisco and Joan Hillman of Omaha made their case at 62nd and Dodge Streets, outside the Omaha Archdiocese headquarters.

They criticized local Catholic officials' handling of two cases.

Archbishop George Lucas recently removed a priest, the Rev. Perry Robinson, from St. Gerald Catholic Church in Ralston and barred him from ministry after learning of a 1980s controversy involving the possession of nude photographs in Milwaukee.

St. Gerald parishioners weren't told why until after a national advocacy and support group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, made the issue public.

Lennon, 64, and Hillman, 52, are members of SNAP.

They also criticized how Omaha Catholic officials handled the case of the Rev. John Fiala.

Despite several complaints and red flags in the 1980s and 1990s in Nebraska, Fiala went on to work as a priest in Texas, where he is accused of raping a teenage boy at gunpoint and of trying to hire a hit man to kill a youth after he went to authorities.

Last year, the Omaha Archdiocese announced that it was told in 2002 that Fiala had made sexual advances toward a child in the 1980s. SNAP leaders have been critical of leaders for not divulging the report sooner.

Lennon said his purpose was to "bring this issue up and make church officials step up, notify people so parents can protect their children, and reach out to survivors."

Deacon Tim McNeil said the archdiocese is proud of its efforts, which include developing a safe environment program used in 1,500 parishes and 500 schools.

He said archdiocese officials "take seriously any allegation that the church is faced with," including taking allegations to lay-clergy doctors, mental health experts and law enforcement.

He said annual audits have found the Omaha Archdiocese in compliance with U.S. bishops' child safety policies since the bishops enacted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002.

McNeil defended Lucas' handling of the Robinson matter. He said the archbishop, who came to Omaha in 2009, quickly removed the priest from ministry after learning of the Milwaukee controversy from a former high school student of the priest.

The student also alleged that the priest had given him a back rub, which the archdiocese considered a new allegation.

McNeil said Lucas acted decisively to protect children, followed policy and was correct in not immediately divulging the reason Robinson left St. Gerald.

"There have been enough false allegations in the church that you have to be discreet and prudent in what you say to a parish," McNeil said. "The allegations could be false, and it could ruin someone's reputation and career."

In the Fiala case, McNeil said church officials, upon learning in 2010 of accusations against him in Texas, contacted all the parishes where Fiala had worked in the Omaha Archdiocese to inform the public and invite them to report any misconduct.

McNeil said it is unclear exactly what was reported to archdiocese officials in the past about Fiala and what information they passed on to Texas church leaders. He said it didn't appear enough information was shared. The Omaha Archdiocese recently settled a lawsuit with the youth who accused Fiala of raping him.

"We felt that we had an obligation to make the situation as right as we could by settling," he said.

Contact the writer:


Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.