Omaha Archdiocese reports substantiated allegations of misconduct, abuse involving 38 clergy

By Christopher BurbOmaha and Erin Grace
Omaha World-Herald
December 1, 2018


Shock and questions abound after the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha made public on Friday the names of 38 clergy members accused of sexual misdeeds with minors.

The archdiocese said “substantiated claims of sexual abuse of, or sexual misconduct with, a minor” had been made against 34 priests and four deacons on a list it provided to Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, who had asked for the information.

The files go back to 1978, as requested by the attorney general. Only a few of the accused have faced criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

The list included widely known abuser priests from Omaha, such as Daniel Herek and the late John Fiala. Herek was convicted of molesting a 14-year-old altar boy and was accused in civil court of sexually abusing several others. Fiala, after facing sex abuse allegations in Omaha, was allowed to continue as a priest in Texas, where he raped a 16-year-old boy, then tried to hire an assassin to kill the youth. Fiala was sentenced in 2012 to 60 years in prison.

The list released Friday also revealed the existence of allegations against 15 priests that previously had not been made public. Shock waves are likely to ripple through Catholic circles in Omaha over some of the revelations, such as the allegations that were made against the Rev. Daniel Kenney, the Jesuit priest who founded Operation Others in 1968 and became widely known and highly regarded at Creighton Prep.

The archdiocese announcement did not include details on the cases. They appear to range widely in severity, from a deacon once laying hands on a teenager with whom he was praying, to allegations of sexual abuse of multiple youths over several years.

Some of the allegations date back 50 years or more. Others occurred more recently, such as a young man’s 2018 misdemeanor sexual assault report against the Rev. Francis Nigli that rocked Omaha’s St. Wenceslaus parish after people learned that he had faced a similar accusation from an O’Neill, Nebraska, 18-year-old in 2013.

The archdiocese was responding to a request made in September by Attorney General Peterson that all three Nebraska dioceses open their personnel files for review. That request came on the heels of a damning grand jury report from Pennsylvania in which about 300 priests allegedly sexually abused more than 1,000 minors over a 70-year period.

The Attorney General’s Office received the report and is reviewing it, spokeswoman Suzanne Gage said. She said the office had also received files from Nebraska’s two other dioceses, based in Lincoln and Grand Island.

On Friday, Creighton University President Daniel Hendrickson, a Jesuit priest, in an email to faculty, staff and students, explained the role that one of the two Jesuits listed in the archdiocesan report had at the university and called for prayers for those who have been hurt or abused.

The Chicago-based USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, which governs Jesuit priests in Omaha, said Friday that it was planning to release its list on Dec. 17 of Jesuits who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The Omaha Archdiocese noted that most of the cases on its list were old — predating 2002, when a bombshell report about Catholic priest sexual abuse in Boston forced the church in the United States to acknowledge two crimes: the sexual abuse of minors and an institutional cover-up.

That year, the Omaha archdiocese implemented reforms aimed at protecting children. But in a video statement released Friday, Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said he will seek a “more specific code of conduct” for clergy and other church workers “so that our clergy and all of you will understand what’s expected of us as we carry out our ministry.”

In the nearly five-minute video, Lucas referred people to the archdiocesan website for more details and apologized “on behalf of the people of God.”

“I’m sorry for what you have experienced in the church,” he said, adding: “We cannot change the sins or the betrayals of the past, but we can acknowledge these ugly truths of the past so that we can repent and so that we can be resolute in our determination that these things will not be repeated.”

Lucas said the archdiocese has a zero-tolerance policy and that it is no place “for anyone guilty of abuse of a minor.”

The archdiocese submitted information on 24 archdiocesan priests, and 10 priests from other dioceses or religious orders, with substantiated allegations of the abuse of minors or misconduct with minors. In all, documentation on 38 clergy members was given to the attorney general in connection with alleged abuse or misconduct with minors as far back as 1956 but the archdiocese said was reported to it between 1978 and 2018.

Of the 38 clergy, 34 allegedly offended before 2002 and the establishment of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The archdiocese said the report will be updated if officials receive future substantiated allegations or after the archdiocese conducts an upcoming forensic audit of its historic clergy files. Lucas anticipates that more victims will come forward as a result of Friday’s action, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese.

“His biggest goal was to say to victims, you are heard, you deserve to be heard, and we want to help you begin the healing process,” McNeil said.

Lucas said no one currently serving in ministry — 132 active priests and 215 active deacons in the Archdiocese of Omaha — has had one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a young person.

“When we see these numbers that go back many decades, we can see that there was a pattern of failure — both on the part of those who misused their office to abuse minors and vulnerable adults, and on the part of those who refused to listen to victims in a compassionate, just and forthright way,” Lucas said.

The following is a searchable list of those named by the Archdiocese of Omaha:

Clergy named in Archdiocese report

The names of those in the Archdiocese of Omaha's report on clergy who it says had been credibly accused of misconduct or abuse with minors since 1978. Five clergy — John Fiala, Deacon Emilio Morales Jordan, Francis Nigli, Andrew Syring and Deacon Duane Thome — were named in claims that came after 2002. Names link to World-Herald coverage when applicable. Source:

Name Parishes served
John Fiala Papillion St. Columbkille, Norfolk Sacred Heart, Omaha St. Joan of Arc, Omaha St. Peter, Omaha Christ the King, Spencer St. Mary, Wisner St. Joseph, Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.
Deacon Emilio Morales Jordan No parishes listed
Francis Nigli Omaha St. Vincent de Paul, Papillion St. Columbkille, O'Neill St. Patrick; Amelia St. Joseph, Omaha St. Wenceslaus.
Andrew Syring Schuyler Divine Mercy, Omaha St. Bernard, Omaha. St. Wenceslaus, West Point St. Mary; Monterey, St. Boniface; Aloys, St. Aloysius; St. Charles, St. Anthony.
Deacon Duane Thome No parishes listed
Robert Allgaier Norfolk Sacred Heart, Ralston St. Gerald
Richard Arkfeld Omaha St. Rose, Atkinson St. Joseph, Omaha Holy Cross, Clyde St. Patrick, Lynch Assumption; Niobrara, St. William, Ewing St. Peter of Alcantara, Randolph St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Charles St. Anthony, Coleridge St. Michael; Belden St. Mary, Newcastle St. Peter; Ponca St. Joseph
John Buckson Omaha Our Lady of Guadalupe, Omaha St. Francis of Assisi, Omaha St. Agnes, Omaha Our Lady of Guadalupe, Schuyler St. Augustine
Donald Cleary Omaha Holy Cross, Omaha Christ the King, Omaha St. Peter, Omaha St. Patrick, O'Neill St. Patrick, Fordyce St. John; Constance St. Joseph, Wayne St. Mary, Fullerton St. Peter; Clarks, St. Peter, North Bend St. Charles Borromeo; Snyder, St. Leo the Great, Omaha St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Franklin Dvorak Norfolk Sacred Heart, O'Neill St. Patrick, Spencer St. Mary, Cleridge St. Michael; Mission of Belden, Hartington Holy Trinity, Omaha St. Wencesalus, Omaha St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
John Feeney (Extern) No parishes listed
Joseph Finch Omaha Our Lady of Lourdes, Boys Town Immaculate Conception (Dowd Chapel), Archdiocese of the Military Services, Diocese of Albany
James Gaughan (Extern) Omaha St. Pius X, Hartington Holy Trinity, Bellevue St. Bernadette, Omaha St. Thomas More, Duncan St. Stanislaus, Diocese of Mandeville, Jamaica.
Gill, Edward Omaha St. Peter, Coleridge St. Michael, Norfolk Sacred Heart, Omaha St. Agnes, Plainview St. Paul, Butte Sts. Peter & Paul, Madison St. Leonard, Atkinson St. Joseph, Central City St. Michael Stanton St. Peter, Osmond St. Mary of the Seven Dolors, St. Edward St. Edward
Tom Glennon (SSC) No parishes listed.
Joseph Henry (OAR) No parishes listed
Daniel Herek Omaha Assumption, Omaha Christ the King, Omaha St. Joan of Arc, Omaha Mary Our Queen, Omaha St. Peter, Omaha St. Bernard, Coleridge St. Michael, Belden St. Mary, Beemer Holy Cross, Omaha St. Ann, Omaha St. Richard.
Joseph Hiepvan Ho (Extern) No parishes listed.
Michael Kelly Elgin St. Boniface, Omaha St. Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha St. Peter, Randolph St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Battle Creek St. Patrick, Neligh St. Francis of Assisi, Clearwater St. Theresa of Avila, Laurel St. Mary, Genoa St. Rose of Lima, Lyons St. Joseph.
Daniel Kenney (SJ) No parishes listed.
Jay Kruse Fremont St. Patrick, Omaha Roncalli High School, Omaha St. Pius X, Wynot Sacred Heart; St. James, St. Philip & James, Cedar Catholic High School, Ewing St. Peter of Alcantara; Deloit Township St. John, Pope John XXIII High School, Verdigre St. Wenceslaus, Niobrara St. William, O'Neill St. Patrick, Amelia St. Joseph.
Larry Toms Kulangara (SSP) No parishes listed
Duane Lukes Omaha St. Stanislaus, Dodge St. Wenceslaus, Omaha St. Pius X, Lindsay Holy Family, Omaha St. Ann, Norfolk Sacred Heart, Niobrara St. William, St. Edward St. Edward, Osmond St. Mary of the Seven Dolors, Norfolk Immaculata Monastery.
Aloysius McMahon Omaha St. Wencesalus, Boys Town Immaculate Conception (Dowd Chapel), Mission Work in Chile, Boys Town Immaculate Conception (Dowd Chapel), Rummel High School, Pierce St. Joseph, Mission Work in Peru, Wisner St. Joseph, Omaha St. Frances Cabrini, Omaha St. Joan of Arc, Omaha St. Peter, Mission Work in Ecuador
Mark Merkel Fremont St. Patrick, Omaha St. Cecilia Cathedral, O'Neill St. Patrick, West Point Central Catholic School, Beemer Holy Cross
Anthony Palmese (OAR) No parishes listed
Roland Peschel Dodge St. Wenceslaus, Creighton St. Ludger, Omaha St. Mary, Omaha St. Bernard, Omaha St. James, Omaha St. Margaret Mary, Randolph St. Jane Frances de Chantal, O'Neill St. Patrick, Amelia St. Joseph, Emmett Epiphany, Omaha St. Bernadette, Fremont St. Patrick, Olean Sacred Heart, Ralston St. Gerald
Anthony Petrusic Omaha Sts. Peter & Paul, Ryan High School, Omaha St. Catherine Hospital, Omaha, Notre Dame Convent, Omaha Sts. Peter & Paul, Omaha St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Croation Catholic Union of US & Canada
Deacon Tom Purnell No parishes listed
John Rizzo Omaha St. Ann, Omaha Holy Cross, Mission Work in Chile, Boys Town Immaculate Conception, Dixon St. Anne, Genoa St. Rose, Ponca St. Joseph, Waterbury Immaculate Conception, Menominee St. Boniface, Stanton St. Peter, Creighton St. Ludger, Clarks St. Peter, Omaha St. Peter, Omaha St. Ann
Perry Robinson (SJ) No parishes listed.
Al Salanitro Omaha St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Omaha Holy Cross, Laurel St. Mary, Dixon St. Anne, Blair St. Francis Borgia, Bellevue St. Bernadette
Thomas Sellentin Omaha St. Stanislaus, Elgin St. Boniface, Omaha St. Joan of Arc, West Point St. Mary, Lindsay Holy Family, Omaha Blessed Sacrament, Spencer St. Mary, Fullerton St. Peter, Menominee St. Boniface, Howells Sts. Peter & Paul and St. John, North Bend St. Charles Borromeo, Snyder St. Leo the Great
John Starostka Omaha St. Francis of Assisi, Creigthon St. Ludger, Omaha St. Philip Neri, Omaha St. Stanislaus, Platte Center St. Joseph, Newcastle St. Peter, Omaha St. Cecilia Cathedral, Cedar Rapids St. Anthony, Primrose St. Mary, Omaha St. Francis of Assisi
Robert Steinhausen Omaha Holy Cross, South Sioux City St. Michael, Spencer St. Mary, Norfolk Sacred Heart, Papillion St. Columbkille.
Patrick Henry Papillion St. Columbkille, Maryknoll Missions, South Sioux City St. Michael, Maryknoll Missions, Diocese of Cleveland
Deacon Robert Pickett No parishes listed
Jeff Zyla South Sioux City St. Michael, Omaha St. Leo, Petersburg St. John the Baptist, Raeville St. Bonaventure, Wisner St. Joseph, West Point Central Catholic High School, Aloys St. Aloysius












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