© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Diocese Of Sioux City Releases Names Of 28 Priests Accused Of Sexually Abusing Minors

Katie Peikes/IPR
Bishop R. Walker Nickless reads from a statement during a press conference for the Diocese of Sioux City, Feb. 25, 2019

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux City made public on Monday a list of 28 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, saying they hope the release of names is the first step in creating a more transparent environment and protecting youth in the future.
According to the Diocese, 22 of the 28 priests listed are now deceased.  Only one of the remaining six still lives in Iowa but has left the priesthood. One of the names included on the list is Jerome Paul Coyle, who the Associated Press reported was stripped of parish assignments in the 1980s for sexually abusing 50 boys over two decades. Twenty-nine names were originally included on the list, but the Diocese said one of the priests has “appealed to Rome” and his case is pending.

“For some, today’s release will be an important milestone in their healing,” said Bishop R. Walker Nickless during a press conference in Sioux City. “For others, it may reopen deep wounds, reviving their disturbing memories or those of their loved one.”

Nickless said going forward, he wants to ensure leaders are held accountable.

“As leaders in faith we must do everything we can to atone and help remedy our church’s sins,” Nickless said. “We also are committed to minimizing the chances of this happening again.” 

"For some, today’s release will be an important milestone in their healing. For others, it may reopen deep wounds, reviving their disturbing memories or those of their loved one." -Bishop R. Walker Nickless

The first credible incident of sexual misconduct against a minor in the 24-county Diocese of Northwest Iowa reportedly happened in 1948. The latest is from 1995. Nickless said there have been allegations made on cases after 1995, but “none of them has been deemed credible” by authorities or a review board that looks into allegations.

The Diocesan Review Board, an independent seven-member board that investigates allegations in the diocese, has reviewed priests’ files as far back as 1902, when the Diocese of Sioux City began. More than 500 priests have worked in the diocese since the beginning. Mark Prosser, a member of the board who is also the police chief for Storm Lake, said “credible” allegations came from any "consistency" in witness testimonies against a priest and physical and corroborating evidence.

“These cases mirror the national trend with abuse beginning in the late 1940s and 50s and escalating in the 60s and 70s,” Prosser said. “By the mid-80s there was a decline and the long-held belief that abusers could be treated was disproven.”

At a recent Vatican summit, Pope Francis called on Catholic leaders to protect children and said priests who commit sexual abuse must be punished.  Asked why the Diocese of Sioux City decided to come forward with a list now, Bishop Nickless said with media attention around the country on the Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released in 2018 that listed more than 300 accused priests, people started asking about what is happening locally. The review board has been talking for around two years about if they should release a list, Nickless said. 

"These cases mirror the national trend with abuse." -Mark Prosser

With the names of priests made public, Nickless said the diocese wants victims to know that they “truly believe them” and that “we take their word...”

While some dioceses use the words “substantially accused” or “substantiated” to determine if a sexual abuse case is credible, the Diocese of Sioux City has taken a more compassionate approach with victims, Father Brad Pelzel said.

“We decided to take it to the, really the threshold of if it’s possible and the victim maintains that it happened, we will believe them,” said the vicar general of the diocese. Pelzel called this "a big move from a lot of places.”

The diocese said it will continue to add names to the list if more credible cases surface. If a victim comes forward alleging a priest sexually abused them, the diocese said its protocol is to provide support, call the police and suspend the priest from all priestly duties until they've resolved the allegation. If an allegation is deemed credible, a priest could be removed from ministry, which means he cannot act as a priest in public and cannot publicly serve mass.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter