Bishop Accountability
  Diocese must give up records

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
December 2, 2003

CLINTON, Iowa - A Clinton County judge has ordered the Diocese of Davenport to produce all records from the past 50 years regarding sexual misconduct by priests, but will allow victims' names to be kept confidential.

The ruling was handed down last week by District Judge C.H. Pelton.

The diocese is compiling these documents as part of an independent panel's 50-year national study of alleged sexual misconduct in the church.

A national advocacy group for victims of abusive priests has sharply criticized the Davenport diocese for its resistance to providing such records in connection with six civil lawsuits alleging child sex abuse by priests in Clinton and Scott counties.

Two other sex-abuse lawsuits against the diocese have been filed in other counties.

"We're thrilled and relieved at this ruling, and think it moves the diocese - and the victims and lay people and innocent priests - one step closer toward healing," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. "Every step closer to knowing the full truth benefits all parties involved."

In the wake of the controversy, the bishop of the diocese reached out to parishioners in a letter he asked pastors to read during all masses in the diocese Sunday, which marked the first Sunday of Advent.

The Most Rev. William E. Franklin wrote in the short letter that he feels "great sorrow and profound regret for the suffering of the victims of this abuse" and is saddened by the suffering of the victims' families and the community.

He also defended the diocese's decision to resist legal requests for church documents, calling the requests "extremely excessive in scope." He said the diocese was concerned about protecting the identities of alleged victims in those church records.

"Attorneys from the diocese are working through these issues and are following civil court restraints imposed upon us," Franklin wrote in the letter dated Nov. 30.

Craig Levien, a Davenport attorney who represents six of the alleged victims, said information the diocese has been ordered to provide is part of the records it has been compiling for the National Review Board, an independent panel appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The study requires all 159 U.S. Catholic dioceses to identify the number of victims and priests involved in alleged sex abuse of minors between 1950 and 2002.

The judge said his ruling allows the names of victims listed in diocese records to remain confidential, but the names of priests involved in the civil lawsuits will be made public in the documents. The ruling also mandates the diocese to preserve all documents related to the study.

Franklin wrote in his letter to parishioners that "contrary to recent reports in the news," the diocese has been responding to victims of alleged sexual abuse and has taken "significant steps" to ensure the safety of children, following recommendations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Davenport diocese's Web site details some of those efforts, explaining the bishop's decision to require that employees and volunteers working in area Catholic churches and schools undergo a new training program about sex abuse prevention.

The diocese also is requiring a wider use of criminal background checks for people working with children in the church and its schools and has expanded its guidelines for ministry. The updated rules now are referred to as the "Code of Conduct Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior."

The Web site includes a prominent announcement printed in red letters on its home page, telling how to contact the diocese's victim assistance coordinator with complaints about sex abuse in the diocese.

"I hope that our efforts may ease some of that anger and confusion and help heal the pain," the bishop wrote in the letter read Sunday.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.