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Iowa Attorney General Releases Findings Of Clergy Abuse Review

The Iowa Attorney General's Office released its report from the investigation into accusations of sexual abuse from Catholic clergy.
Mateus Campos Felipe
The Iowa Attorney General's Office released its report from the investigation into accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) spoke out today about the Iowa Attorney General’s office investigation. They expect more action from the Church to help with the healing process.

Michael McDonnell, SNAP’s communication manager, said he appreciates the investigation into the abuse allegations, but there are still a few red flags.

The report found there were allegations against three current clergy members. They all fell outside the criminal statute of limitations. SNAP wants those names disclosed.

“They have an obligation to do that. It is so important because knowledge is key, knowledge is awareness. This type of information, often more times than not, brings forward other victims who may have been sitting in silence for a very, very long time,” McDonnell, who is a survivor himself, said.

The Bishops in Iowa said they would study the report, but SNAP wants more immediate action.

McDonnell and the rest of SNAP said publishing those names will help other survivors.

“It's years of pain, years of silence years of holding on. And when news of the subject matter comes forward, it really starts to hit home with individuals so that they somehow find the courage and the strength to come forward, so that their healing process can begin regardless of how late in life it may be." McDonnell explained.

He said the average age for someone to come forward about clergy abuse experienced as a child is 52. He urged any other survivors to report instances of abuse to the police. SNAP officials said they want other states to follow in Iowa's footsteps and conduct their own investigations into clergy abuse.

The original story continues below.

The investigation by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office focused on 50 complaints (45 within the Catholic Church, 5 non-Catholic/spiritual) as well as other records that involved 70 Catholic priests. Miller started in late 2018, but the complaints of abuse ranged from the 1930s through 1997.

The office expressed its sympathies for all the victims who endured sexual abuse within the Catholic Church for decades.

"This is well known, but never should be minimized. Iowa is not different from the rest of the country. Our hearts go out to the victims of these acts. The consequences are severe and lifelong," the Attorney General's Office said in the report.

None of the complaints against Catholic clergy fell within the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. The report ultimately concluded that although there is a painful history of abuse and extensive cover-ups within the Catholic Church in Iowa, the Dioceses have become more responsive to victims’ claims in recent years.

Miller personally talked to some of the survivors and found they either never disclosed their experiences, or their allegations were ignored/covered up by the Church. He utilized some of the same tactics as Josh Shapiro, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

Due to a lack of clarity on authority to compel cooperation from the four Dioceses, the office of the Attorney General asked the Dioceses to participate in the investigation voluntarily in 2019.

Their lists of accused clergy can be found here: Archdiocese of Dubuque, the Diocese of Des Moines, the Diocese of Davenport and the Diocese of Sioux City.

The Bishops (the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, the Bishop of the Diocese of Des Moines, the Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City) responded to the letter, saying participation in the investigation would be costly.

They were also concerned about the confidentiality and credibility of accusations against clergy members. In his response, Miller had urged the Bishops to understand the importance of publicly investigating the accusations.

In the past, accusations that weren't found credible by the Dioceses were not made public. These are some of the instances Miller wanted to shed light on.

"[W]e think an independent, third-party evaluation of the process of deciding which clergy were included on public lists by the dioceses is warranted," Miller said in the response letter to the Bishops. "This fresh look by trained professionals in our office would provide assurances to victims and the public generally that all credibly accused clergy have been publicly identified."

It also found over the past twenty years, the Dioceses have implemented reforms “in good faith” to address and avoid future instances of abuse by updating and maintaining their lists of credibly accused clergy.

Individual Conclusions

Diocese of Sioux City: "operated in good faith to prepare and update the list," according to the Attorney General's Office.

Archdiocese Of Dubuque: agreed to legal settlements to compensate some clergy abuse survivors and establishment of a list. "Acted in good faith to voluntarily maintain and update its list of credibly accused priests."

Diocese of Davenport: "has generally acted in good faith to maintain and update its list of credibly accused clergy."

Diocese of Des Moines: concernsabout not following up with a complaint made against a deceased priest. Failed to release some reports, claiming attorney-client privilege, but has produced a realistic list. The Attorney General's Office noted their concerns with the Diocese of Des Moines were in a "gray area."

The report found only five priests have been accused during or after 2002.

The Catholic bishops of Iowa have released a joint statementsaying they will study the Attorney General’s report for more suggestions on how to improve.

Bishops Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, William Joensen of Des Moines, R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City and Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque said in the statement, "Policies and procedures in place provide for responding to each allegation, cooperating with civil authorities, removing offenders from ministry, and being held accountable."

The Attorney General's report in its entirety can be found here.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines