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Des Moines Diocese Names Nine Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse

Grant Gerlock
IPR file
Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines diocese.

The Catholic Diocese of Des Moines is the latest to identify priests accused of sexual abuse as the church attempts to fully account for reports of abuse by clergy. Bishop Richard Pates Thursday named nine priests implicated in 44 reports of abuse substantiated by the diocese.

The list includes two priests who were not previously publicized: Paul Connelly and Dennis Mangan.

Connelly was a priest in Des Moines and western Iowa. He was accused of an incident in 1964 when he was working with Catholic Charities in Des Moines. He died in 2007.

Mangan was a priest in numerous southwest Iowa churches starting in the 1930s including Hamburg, Massena, Mondamin and Pisgah. The diocese said two incidents of abuse by Mangan in the 1960s were reported in the early 2000s. Mangan died in 1976.

The other seven names were previously known: Howard Fitzgerald, Phil Hobt, John Ryan, Richard Wagner, Francis Zuch, Leonard Kunkel and Albert Wilwerding. One priest — Wilwerding — is associated with more than half of the allegations.

Waukee police chief John Quinn is also a lifelong Catholic and a member of a committee that reviews allegations of abuse.
Credit Grant Gerlock / IPR
Waukee police chief John Quinn is a lifelong Catholic and a member of a committee that reviews allegations of abuse.

“We care about the people who were hurt and to the best of our ability we want to prevent it from happening again,” said Pates who is preparing to retire as bishop. “Healing will be more possible when the leadership of the church acknowledges the transgressions of the clergy.”

Pates said abuse claims are reviewed by a committee mostly made up of people who are not church staff. According to a statement, claims are considered substantiated if “sufficient evidence exists to establish reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged abuse occurred.”

The list of names covers all claims of abuse reported by victims and recorded in the files of priests, alive or dead.

“(Victims) deserve, and all of the faithful as well, a full accounting to the best of our knowledge of the extent of the abuse,” Pates said

The incidents occurred from 1940 to 1997, and the diocese said no claims which occurred after that time have been reported.

“The problem with situations like this is they’re so historical in nature in that they’re beyond the statute of limitations meaning they can’t be entered in to the judicial process for accountability,” said Waukee police chief and review committee member, John Quinn.

In order to prevent abuse in the future, the Des Moines diocese now requires anyone who works regularly around children to go through a background check. That includes priests, coaches and volunteers. Any current priest accused of abuse is suspended from ministry and the report is shared with law enforcement.

“Any priest for whom it has been established he committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor is permanently removed from church ministry,” Pates said. “One strike, you’re out.”

Earlier this year, the Sioux City diocese named 28 clergy. Pates said he hopes that if the church is more open about clergy abuse, people who have not come forward will feel comfortable sharing their stories.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa