Diocese divulges new cases

QCTimes.com/January 18, 2005
By Todd Ruger

A new report issued Tuesday by the Catholic Diocese of Davenport states that 96 people have made 108 allegations that 25 members of the clergy sexually abused them as children.

The latest figures reflect 48 new allegations of decades-old abuse by 41 people since February, when the diocese first reported on all accusations since 1950 in its internal review of personnel files while facing mounting pressure from sexual abuse lawsuits.

The seven-page summary of investigations, settlements and updates on requests to defrock priests is the first such information released by the diocese since it paid $9 million to settle 37 civil claims in October.

Tuesday's report by Bishop William Franklin identified only one priest not previously named by the diocese or in lawsuits. The diocese paid $20,000 in October to settle an allegation against the Rev. Lawrence Soens, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City.

Soens, who maintains his innocence and does not serve the church in any capacity, still faces two more allegations from the period when he worked in the Davenport Diocese during the 1960s, the bishop said.

Since the $9 million October settlement, the diocese and its insurance carrier have settled for $50,000 one man's claim of sexual abuse during the 1970s by the Rev. William Wiebler, Franklin said.

As stated in the February report, he said the vast majority of the new allegations are against three priests - Wiebler, the Rev. Francis Bass and James Janssen, who was removed from the priesthood by the pope in July.

Some of the 41 people making allegations in the past year accused more than one priest, and all but five of the 48 allegations refer to abuse occurring during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, with none of them mentioning any abuse after 1990, the bishop said.

New allegations were made against five deceased priests, and one new allegation was made against a former priest in the diocese who voluntarily removed himself from the church in the early 1980s and got married, the report states.

The diocese is not releasing the names of those accused priests, but it said the claimants may choose to identify them publicly.

"The diocese is not publishing their names, in part, because the priests are no longer here to defend themselves," Franklin stated in the report.

He urged people to report child sexual abuse and apologized again for the victims' "wounds and pain."

"We have learned that the diocese did not move as quickly as we perhaps should have with a program of compassion and concern for the victims and their families," he said. "And for that I deeply apologize to all of them."

Craig Levien, a Davenport attorney who represented 37 people involved in the October settlement, said the total of 108 allegations is "just the tip of the iceberg."

"They have admitted to over 100 victims. They also admit they know there are many, many more out there," he said.

"That continues to be evidence of a chilling story."

Statements in court records from plaintiffs, eight of whom filed only as "John Doe," contained sordid and lurid tales of sexual contact with priests 20 to 50 years ago.

Allegations came from parishes across the 22-county diocese that covers southeastern Iowa, mainly following the accused priests from assignment to assignment.

Levien said it was the courage of the people who have reported sexual abuse that led to Tuesday's report.

"We know it was the courage of the victims that resulted in the disclosure," he said. "None of these disclosures were made voluntarily."

Diocese spokesman David Montgomery said the bishop released the report voluntarily. "I think we were going to do the report anyway," he added.

An updated report on sexual abuse by clergy to members of the diocese, including apologies by the bishop, was one of 15 non-monetary terms associated with the October settlement.

David Clohessy, the executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said some of the steps made by the Davenport Diocese and detailed in the report were required almost three years ago by a church charter.

"It's a little bit naive, even reckless, to assume this signifies any real change of heart," in the Davenport Diocese, he added.

Only time will tell whether the non-monetary promises are kept, he said.

"If I have a gun to my head, I'll promise anything to make the gunman go away," he added. "These victims had terribly damaging evidence on the church, and the power to force very revealing trials to happen."

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