Diocese of Des Moines, following Sioux City's lead, names 9 priests accused of abusing minors

Des Moines Register/April 4, 2019

By Shelby Fleig

The Diocese of Des Moines on Thursday publicly named nine priests it said are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while serving the diocese.

The Allegation Review Committee, made up of of local clergy, a judge, a lawyer, a police chief and a retired teacher, substantiated allegations of abuse occurring between 1940 and 1997. 

"It's more than a sin; it's a compulsion," Bishop Richard Pates said at a Thursday morning press conference in downtown Des Moines. "It's a crime."

In a letter to parishioners Wednesday, Pates wrote that he shares "the anger and frustration" caused by the ongoing international reckoning on sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy. 

"It is my sincere hope the release of this list facilitates healing, encourages additional victims who have faced abuse to come forward and begins to restore trust," he wrote.

Two of the nine names — Paul Connelly and Dennis Mangan — had not been previously tied to abuse of minors by the diocese. Both are deceased. 

In 2003, the diocesan Allegation Review Committee substantiated allegations of abuse of minors against Albert Wilwerding, John Ryan, and former Dowling Catholic High School president Richard Wagner.

Phillip Hobt, a former Des Moines priest and teacher at St. Albert Catholic Schools in Council Bluffs, was removed from the priesthood in 2007. 

The diocese settled claims of abuse, first made public in 1995, against Francis Zuch decades ago. Zuch led Catholic Charities in Des Moines from 1935 to 1955.

In 2015, Pope Francis removed Howard Fitzgerald from the priesthood after an investigation into decades-old abuse by the diocesan review committee. Pates informed Fitzgerald, who worked in central and western Iowa churches for more than three decades, of the Vatican's decision at the time. Fitzgerald now lives in southeast Iowa, Pates said Thursday.

Last year, the diocese said Pates referred a third allegation of decades-old sexual abuse by a retired priest, the Rev. Leonard Kenkel, to local law enforcement. Ordained in 1960, Kenkel served multiple parishes and taught at Dowling for 27 years, from 1962 to 1989. Kenkel retired in 2008 and lives in a nursing facility in the diocese.

The review committee said there was insufficient evidence to conclude abuse by Kenkel after allegations in 2003 and 2005, instead referring him to professional treatment.

The list released Thursday names the following:

Paul Connelly, died in 2007, subject of one substantiated allegation

Dennis Mangan, died in 1976, subject of two substantiated allegations

Leonard Kenkel, resides in senior care facility in the diocese, subject of one substantiated allegation

Albert Wilwerding, died in 2004, subject of 25 substantiated allegations — about half of all the allegations the review board confirmed

John Ryan, died in 2010, subject of six substantiated allegations

Richard Wagner, died in 2012, subject of one substantiated allegation

Phillip Hobt, died in 2017, subject of one substantiated allegation

Howard Fitzgerald, resides outside the diocese in southeast Iowa, subject of two substantiated allegations

Francis Zuch, died in 1993, subject of five substantiated allegations

The Rev. Paul Monahan, who was suspended in 2016 after accusations that he invaded the privacy of five male high school students in a locker room, had his conviction reversed and his suspension of priestly ministry fully lifted in 2018.

Des Moines list mirrors Sioux City revelations

The Diocese of Sioux City in February publicly named 28 credibly accused priests.

Like the Sioux City list, which included abuse between 1948 and 1995, the substantiated allegations in the Des Moines list date back more than 20 years — beyond the statute of limitations to prosecute such crimes.

Waukee Police Chief John Quinn, who sits on the diocesan review committee, said the Church is taking "proactive" steps to address accusations. The committee adheres to documented guidelines to investigate claims and establish a "burden of proof," regardless of charges, Quinn said. 

Pates said there has not been a "substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a minor by a cleric actually happening in real time since 1997."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, previously questioned if the Sioux City list was "incomplete or carefully curated," and called for an independent review by state law enforcement.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller met with each of Iowa's four bishops in late 2018. Iowa is one of up to 45 states that has sought guidance from Pennsylvania authorities since a bombshell grand jury report there was made public last summer.

Miller does not have the authority, unlike his Pennsylvania counterpart, to launch a statewide investigative grand jury, according to Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for Attorney General Miller.

Pates asks God to forgive Church's failings

In the Wednesday letter, Pates asked Catholics to join him in prayer for victims of abuse.

"Would you join me in fervent prayer for the healing of the victims and our continuing personal conversion as disciples of Jesus?" he wrote. "We know this is essential to full healing and recovery."

Pates said he has asked God for forgiveness for the Church since returning from a bishops' retreat in Illinois this year.

"As the past 20 years indicate, we are emerging steadfast in our commitment to children and more faithful in our relationship with Jesus," Pates wrote. 

Pates announced his plans to retire last year, after turning 75 — the age Canon Law requires bishops to submit their resignation to the pope. Pates was appointed in 2008.

"I wanted to have this information published before I retire," Pates said Thursday. "I also want to say I am sorry. We care about the people who were hurt and, to the best of our ability, we want to prevent it from happening again."

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