Iowa AG Launches Investigation Into Clerical Sex Abuse

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 4, 2019   

Iowa is tied with Ohio in having the worst statute of limitations for victims in the country

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DES MOINES, Iowa (ChurchMilitant.com) - Iowa became the 17th state to launch an investigation into the Catholic Church as all four bishops of Iowa promise to comply with the attorney general's request for the Church's records on clerical sexual abuse. 

On Friday, Iowa's attorney general, Tom Miller, requested all four of the state's Catholic dioceses to hand over their records pertaining to clerical sex abuse of minors and young adults.

Miller has given the bishops until Aug. 1 to comply with his request, the first step in the process of the investigating the extent of clerical sex abuse and whether or not there has been any cover-ups. 

Promising to comply in a joint statement released Monday, they said, "Each diocese, in the interest of transparency and accountability, plans to comply with the Attorney General's request." 

"The efforts of each diocese to protect minors from clergy sexual abuse have for many years now been subject to an annual credible third-party review," the statement continued. 

Church Militant spoke with Lynn Hicks, the communications director at the office of the attorney general of Iowa, who said between 20 and 25 victims have contacted them requesting an investigation into the Church. 

Hicks said, "Approximately a dozen survivors have reached out to tell us their stories and many of them encouraged us to investigate."

He added, "Other people have called us or contacted us via social media asking us to investigate, and they didn't disclose whether they were a victim or not."

On Monday, the Iowa attorney general's office unveiled a special hotline (855-620-7000) and webpage for victims of clerical sexual abuse to report potential crimes without having to go to the bishops.

In the letter to the bishops, Miller said while the efforts the bishops have made to produce the list of credibly accused clergy is appreciated, "we believe that in this context, a credible, third-party review is warranted and will add to the transparency, reconciliation, and healing."

The documents they requested span almost 70 years, from 1950 to the present, and include a list of all credibly accused clergy, including all past drafts or internal lists, all lists of clergy that were accused but that it was not deemed credible, the diocesan review board meeting dates and minutes from the meetings, documents related to all reports of abuse and a summary of actions taken by the diocese.

The attorney general's office also wants copies of all the settlement agreements including copies of non-disclosure agreements.

Iowa is tied with Ohio as having the worst laws in the nation to protect minors who were abused. A victim has only until they are 19 years old to come forward and report the abuser before the statute of limitations runs out.

While there is still much to uncover surrounding the extent of the sexual abuse crisis in Iowa, some information is available.

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Bp. Pates, Bp. Zinkula, Abp. Jackels and Bp. Nickless

Archdiocese of Dubuque

The archdiocese of Dubuque encompasses the northeastern quarter of the state and is headed by Abp. Michael Jackels. The list of accused priests contains 30 names. Only two priests on this list are alive, and both of them were accused of abusing male minors.

In 2013, Abp. Jackels and his predecessor, Abp. Jerome Hanus, reached a $5.2 million settlement with 26 survivors of clerical sexual abuse — 22 men and four women.

That same year, Abp. Hanus was deposed for two lawsuits filed in 2011 about his role in allowing the sexual abuse of two minors by Bede Parry while Abp. Hanus was the abbot there. 

Diocese of Sioux City

The diocese of Sioux City has been headed by Bp. R. Walker Nickless since 2006. His list of 28 credibly accused priests contains only six living priests — all of them residing "outside the state of Iowa."

In 2016, citing a shortage of priests, Bp. Nickless changed the status of over 40% of its parishes, relegating them to "oratory" status that have no regularly scheduled Mass. At the time there was no plan to sell off the churches.

In November, reports surfaced that Bp. Lawrence Soens, the bishop of Sioux City at the time, covered up Fr. Jeremy Coyle's four decades of abusive behavior with at least 50 boys. Coyle was removed from ministry in 1986 and moved to New Mexico where he had only minimal supervision. 

Coyle was living with the Reuben Ortiz for seven months before he learned of his predation of young boys.

"How he was not on any sex abuse list for people to observe is beyond me," Ortiz said.

Diocese of Des Moines

Bishop Richard Pates is the ordinary of the diocese of Des Moines, in the southwest quarter of the state. In April, Bp. Pates released a list of nine priests that had credible allegations of sexual abuse — all but two of them are deceased.

In 2018, Pates signed off on a Lenten reflection and meditation book that was all but devoid of Catholic Teachings on Heaven, Hell, Penance, fasting and mortification — all traditional Lenten themes — instead, focused on water quality and conservation, carbon footprint and the ecology.

In all, this reflection mentioned the words man and human over 100 times but Jesus only thrice. 

In November, Church Militant was contacted by Jessica Crouse, a woman who was at the center of a false allegation of misconduct with Deacon Mike Manno. Crouse claims both hers and the Manno families lives were destroyed after Bp. Pates refused to speak with her after a third party accused the pair of having a sexual relationship. Crouse vigorously denies that allegation. 

Crouse said she never got the chance to speak with Bp. Pates to explain her side of the story. The diocese never offered her support, counseling or even sent a letter. "Nothing," she said. "I've had to walk through this alone."

Manno has been removed from ministry over the allegations. 

Diocese of Davenport

Bishop Thomas Zinkula has led the diocese of Davenport, Iowa since 2017, previously he was the rector at St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

In his response to the attorney general's request, Bp. Zinkula claims the diocese the procedures implemented since 2002 have helped and the diocese "has not received any reports of child sexual abuse by clergy or church personnel that occurred since 1988, over 30 years ago." 

Davenport's list of credibly accused priests has 36 names, with only eight of them living. In 2007, the diocese reached a $37 million settlement with 156 survivors of clerical sexual abuse dating back to the 1930s. In this case, the diocese's concession to allow the victims to speak about their experiences was "unusual."

The diocese was already in bankruptcy proceedings after a $1.5 million settlement in 2006 with D. Michl Uhde — taking a year of negotiations. 

In 2012, when Davenport diocese filed for bankruptcy, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court mandated the diocese to name three additional priests as credibly accused despite the diocesan review board's findings that this claim was not substantiated "by clear and convincing evidence." 

Church Militant asked Hicks if their request covered all adults or only "vulnerable adults" and he admitted they were not aware of that term being used to continue the cover-up of abuse of adults and seminarians.   

Other states recently opening sexual abuse investigations on the Catholic Church are California, Colorado, Georgia and Nebraska. 

The Iowa attorney general's hotline phone number to report clerical sexual abuse is 855-620-7000. The web page questionnaire can be found here

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