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Survivors Network: Naming Priests Accused Of Sexual Abuse Is A Big Step, But More Needs To Be Done

A priest's collar.

A support group for people who have been abused by clergy says the Diocese of Sioux City’s decision to publish a list of priests accused of sexual abuse is a big step towards transparency, but they still have some concerns.
Up until Monday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City had never published a list of priests “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors. The list names 28 that face more than 100 credible allegations. Of the 28 priests on the list, 22 are deceased and only one of the remaining six still lives in Iowa, but has left the priesthood.

Zach Hiner, the executive director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says the list is a step towards healing.

“This is one sign that church officials in Sioux City understand the importance of these lists, both for the prevention of future abuse and for the healing of survivors,” Hiner said.

Hiner says there’s still a lot that’s missing, though.

“One of the things that we always want to see when these lists are released is ‘okay it’s great these are the names,’ but when were the allegations brought forth and then critically what was done when those allegations were brought forth?" Hiner asked. "Were these priests transferred around? Were they immediately turned over to law enforcement?” 

The list includes categories like where each priest served and the number of allegations against them. Hiner says he also wants to know if deacons, nuns and bishops have been accused of sexual abuse.

In an email, Susan O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese does not have any plans to release more lists at this time.

“But if a credible accusation is made, information will be added to this list,” O’Brien said. “Most of the reports that the Review Board has reviewed were made by adults about priests who abused them when they were children. If the priest was still living when an accusation was made, they were removed from ministry.”

Bishop R. Walker Nickless of the Diocese of Sioux City said at a Monday news conference that with the release of the list of 28 priests with credible sexual abuse allegations, the message the diocese wants to send to victims is, “We believe you, we care about you.”

“To all victims of such abuse, as well as advocates and supporters of survivors, I am profoundly sorry for the suffering you have endured,” Nickless said.

The diocese has been using the phrase “credibly accused” to emphasize that the 28 priests have a great deal of evidence against them: corroborating witness testimonies, any physical evidence and an accuracy of the details including where a priest may have been placed at the time an alleged incident was said to have happened. 

But Hiner said the phrase “credibly accused” is concerning.

“It tends to lead to problems,” Hiner said. “We do hear from victims who call us after they see these [lists] and they say ‘hey my name wasn’t on there, my perpetrator is not on there. I’m not credible’,” Hiner said.

The diocese said the first credible allegation of sexual abuse involves an incident that happened in 1948. The last happened in 1995. The diocese said there have been allegations made since, but “none of them has been deemed credible.” Hiner said SNAP wants to know how many allegations have been made since 1995.

The diocese says it has paid out more than $4.5 million in settlements to victims since 2002.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter