Area Catholic diocese responds to ‘cover up’ claim

By Daba Larsen
January 7, 2019

The Diocese of Sioux City on Friday issued a statement of apology to victims of sexual abuse by members of its clergy, including George McFadden, who served at Storm Lake St. Mary’s in the 1950s and faced a litany of abuse allegations.

Much of the statement responded to allegations made at a recent small rally by a victim’s organization, and defended the diocese’s record in dealing with abuse allegations.

The diocese “would first like to apologize to all victims of abuse by members of the clergy. We are working to do everything we can to help victims who come forward. We want to help them feel a sense of justice and healing,” the statement reads. “We again encourage all victims, if you have not reported past or present abuse, to please come forward.”

A victim’s assistance hotline is available by calling 712-279-5610.

“We are diligently working on the release of a list of clergy who have substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors against them. We sincerely hope this will help victims in their healing,” said Susan O’Brien, Director of Communications and Development. “Coordinating this list has taken longer than we expected as we review all of our records carefully. Taking into account advice received in our meeting with the Attorney General for the State of Iowa in early December and counsel provided by dioceses that have already released lists, we have made progress on our list and have a draft.”

Other dioceses had released such lists earlier as awareness of abuse by priests grew.

The Sioux City Diocese earlier indicated that its list would be released in 2018, but research is requiring additional time, and committees are continuing to meet to prepare the listing, according to the statement.

The diocese addressed media attention surrounding a SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Sioux City in late December with Tim Lennon, who has accused now-deceased priest Peter Murphy of raping him in 1960, at age 12.

He reportedly calls for now cardinal Daniel DiNardo to step down, and is lobbying for a statewide investigation of the Catholic Church by the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

“We deeply regret the abuse that Mr. Lennon suffered at the hands of Peter Murphy, a deceased member of the clergy who served in our Diocese from 1955-1973. The Diocese would like to clarify some of the information that has been in the media, as well as answering questions that have arisen since that meeting,” the statement said.

The diocese said it has had “a great deal of communication with Lennon and has acknowledged his pain and suffering from Peter Murphy.” The diocese settled claims with Lennon in 2016, and a letter from Lennon at that time accepted the support and unspecified monetary compensation, as well as appreciation of an apology from the diocese.

“In peaking through these dramatic emotions are pleasant dreams of what the award can bring,” a letter from Lennon said of the settlement, according to the diocese.

Bishop Nickless reportedly wrote to Mr. Lennon that same year, “I recognize that this settlement does not undo the harm that you have suffered but pray that it will help you attain a sense of resolution, restitution and that justice is being served.”

 “This correspondence with Mr. Lennon contrasts SNAP’s accusation that the Diocese calls victims ‘liars,’” Friday’s statement reads. “We have attempted to treat all victims with respect and compassion.”

“According to news reports, Mr. Lennon alleged that Bishop DiNardo “covered up” abuse by priests, specifically mentioning Murphy. Peter Murphy died 17 years before DiNardo was made Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City. The allegations that came forth about Murphy happened after Bishop DiNardo left Sioux City,” the diocese said.

Murphy served a number of parishes in northwest Iowa, including Spencer and Cherokee, and at one time was on the faculty at Emmetsburg Catholic High School. Accusations of abuse while working in Sioux City in 1959 and 1960 emerged decades later.

The statement briefly addressed the George McFadden case, saying that Bishop DiNardo had sent McFadden’s case for laicization to Rome, and noting that DiNardo did remove McFadden from ministry in 2001 - though that was reportedly years after the first allegations were heard.

George McFadden served six different northwest Iowa parishes in a career that spanned almost 40 years. McFadden has been accused of sexual abusing at least 25 people, with many of those claims and lawsuits reportedly settled by the diocese. McFadden served at Storm Lake St. Mary’s from 1953-57 - none of the public allegations involve that period, however the first allegations of abusing children date from the late 1950s after he had moved from Storm Lake to Immaculate Conception in Sioux City. McFadden was “summarily retired” and ordered into treatment after the diocese learned of sexual misconduct that allegedly took place in LeMars late in his career, but was never defrocked or prosecuted. McFadden continued to deny any harmful actions.

In an interview with the Pilot-Tribune from his home in Indiana in 2006, a retired, 80-year-old McFadden called the allegations against him “a bunch of lies.”

”As long as (the diocese) will pay people money, it’s going to continue. It ruined me, and I can’t do anything about it. It happened 50 years ago; how can I prove it?,” he said.

While he was in Sioux City, DiNardo apologized in 2002 for permitting McFadden, after 27 abuse lawsuits to continue to celebrate Mass at the diocesan cathedral despite being removed from ministry in the early 1990s.

The diocese also briefly address Jerome Coyle, another former priest mentioned in the SNAP event, who reportedly victimized approximately 50 children over a 20 year period serving several parishes. The diocese has been accused of covering up Coyle’s 1986 admissions of pedophilia for over 30 years, never reporting the crimes to police, and most recently helping to move the Coyle into a retirement home in Fort Dodge without informing the Catholic school across the street. “When Bishop DiNardo was ordained as Bishop of Sioux City, Jerome Coyle had been out of the priesthood, living as a civilian in a civilian job in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 11 years. There were no allegations of abuse by Coyle during this timeframe,” the diocese said. Among Coyle’s assignments as a priest was a chaplain position in a LeMars hospital and a faculty position at Bishop Heelan High School.

At the SNAP meeting, people were told to reach out to Scott Rhinehart if they have questions. The diocese said that people should be aware that Rhinehart is a lawyer in Sioux City who has represented victims, not a counselor.

Diocese officials feel that sexual abuse by the clergy in the area has been stopped.

“It should be noted that since 2002, alleged allegations of sexual abuse by active members of the clergy to a minor in the Diocese of Sioux City have been virtually eliminated. The allegations since 2002 are almost entirely from adult victims who have reported past abuse. Every victim is welcome to come forth to the Diocese, with or without counsel, and they will be treated with the utmost respect.”

The diocese website now also has a button on each web page for reporting abuse past or present, labeled in English and Spanish.


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