Parishes Notified of Ex-Priest; Archbishop Hanus Says the Late Reiss, Who Served in the Area, Is Accused of Sexually Abusing Minors

By Mary Nevans Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
February 24, 2005

A former priest's death in Mexico has revived the controversy over sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

Archbishop Jerome Hanus has notified all the parishes where the Rev. Robert Reiss worked that the man has been accused of molesting minors and that Reiss was officially defrocked by papal decree seven years ago.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque asks that cases of sexual abuse by clergy or other personnel of the archdiocese be reported to the director of the Office of Child Protection, Joyce Connors, at 563/556-2580, or any of the coordinators of assistance:

• Thomas Anderegg, 563/556-1255.

• Joan Hoffmann, (toll free) 866/319-4636.

• Maureen Oates (toll free) 800/803-6758.

A sex-abuse victim advocacy group called it a case of too little, too late on the part of local church officials.

According to a niece, Reiss was "brutally and savagely murdered" in Chilpancino, Guerrero, Mexico, on Feb. 3 at the age of 75. His obituary said, "He spent most of his life in northeast Iowa and Dubuque County serving his fellow man as a Catholic priest."

According to church officials, he was ordained as a priest for the archdiocese in 1955 and "dispensed from the priesthood" by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

Reiss served as a priest in the area at:

• Holy Trinity Church in Luxemburg from 1960 to 1967.

• St. Michael in Garber and Sacred Heart in Littleport from 1971 to 1974.

• St. Peter in Sabula and Sacred Heart in Green Island from 1981 to 1985.

• Immaculate Conception in North Buena Vista from 1985 to 1990.

Church sex abuse scandal What has happened so far:

• Early 2002 - Numerous reports of sexual abuse by clergy rock the Roman Catholic Church in America.

• June 2002 - U.S. Catholic bishops gather in Dallas to address the scandal and adopt the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

• August 2002 - Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus names the 12 members of the Review Board for the Protection of Minors.

• March 2003 - Archiocesan priests and bishop take part in a "service of atonement" in response to the sex-abuse scandal.

• June 2003 - Hanus presents the archdiocese's Policy for the Protection of Minors.

• July 2003 - Archdiocese's Victim Assistance Coordinator Program established.

• January 2004 - Release of first national audit of dioceses' compliance with policies to protect minors from clergy abuse, showing 4 percent of all priests active between 1950 and 2002, or 4,392, had been accused of sexual abuse.

• June 2004 - Dubuque Archdiocese Office for Protection of Children is opened; Joyce Connors is named director.

• February 2005 - Second national audit of dioceses released, showing 1,092 allegations of sex abuse against 756 U.S. Catholic priests and deacons in 2004.

Hanus asked the pastors at all 12 parishes where Reiss worked to put his message in their weekly bulletins.

"Some may remember his priestly service with gratitude. Others claim that they were abused by him," Hanus wrote.

He also asked for anyone who was sexually abused by clergy or other church personnel (he does not name Reiss) to contact their priest or people appointed to deal with clergy sex-abuse claims. He included contact information.

At St. Peter Catholic Church in Sabula, Pastoral Administrator Sister Lou Ann Kilburg, OSF, planned to include the archbishop's message in the parish's upcoming bulletin, though she had not received it by Wednesday afternoon.

Kilburg said that over the years, she has heard parishioners mention that a former St. Peter priest was "into sexual abuse," mentioning Reiss' name.

"But they had a hard time even remembering his name, so I'm thinking the abuse probably never happened here. If it had been a firsthand thing, I would have heard about it and reported it," Kilburg said. "The archbishop wants to make sure that anyone who was abused gets help, so that's why he sent this message."

Leaders of a local victims' group said Hanus should have taken the action years ago. Heather Smith, of Waterloo, and Steve Theisen, of Hudson, founded the Northeast Iowa chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"We are saddened that it has taken the archbishop more than seven years to disclose this information," Smith said.

"(Hanus) deliberately chose, once again, to do the bare minimum, instead of launching a genuine and effective outreach effort to find others who may still be trapped in shame and self-blame," said Theisen, who claims he was abused by a nun while he was a student at Dubuque's Sacred Heart Catholic School.

Joyce Connors, the head of the archdiocese's Office for the Protection of Children and Young People, said that Hanus is "continuing to reflect on whether or not (not releasing the name of accused clergy) is the best course of action."

"In the past, the Archdiocese of Dubuque has chosen not to make public the names" of accused clergy, she said.

"There was concern about revealing details that could be traumatic for the victims and also the possibility of ruining reputations of individuals who might be innocent," said Connors.

The public notification that Reiss was a sexual abuser comes at the same time as more people are coming forward to claim priests molested them in the past. On Friday, three more civil lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese and two priests - the Rev. William Schwartz and the Rev. Patrick McElliot.

In October, the archdiocese paid $100,000 to settle another suit claiming abuse at Schwartz's hands. Earlier this month, parishioners at Dubuque's Holy Ghost Church were notified that Schwartz, who served there in 1980, "was placed under church penalties in 1993," a week after Smith and Theisen passed out leaflets at the church and at St. Anthony Catholic Church notifying both parishes that Schwartz had served there and had numerous sexual-abuse claims against him.


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