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Iowa Attorney General Seeks Records On Clergy Abuse From Iowa Dioceses

Grant Gerlock
IPR file
In April, Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines diocese named nine priests accused of sexual abuse.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is asking each of the four Catholic dioceses in the state to submit their records on clergy sex abuse.
In letters to each of the dioceses in Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City and the Archdiocese of Dubuque sent May 31, Attorney General Tom Miller asked them to "voluntarily comply" in submitting eight types of lists, documentation and definitions. They include lists of all clergy who have been “credibly accused” and accusations of sexual abuse considered “not credible," how each diocese defines a “credible” accusation, any documentation of reports of abuse the dioceses received, and copies of settlements the dioceses entered into with people who survived abuse.

Miller, in his letters, acknowledged the lists the dioceses have made public on clergy who have been credibly accused of abuse, but said the state wants to do more for transparency.

“But we believe that in this context, a credible third-party review is warranted and will add to transparency, reconciliation, and healing,” Miller wrote.

Tim Lennon, a Sioux City native who says he was abused by a priest at age 12, said this is a great step forward. But he said he worries the dioceses won’t willingly submit their records without a subpoena.

“We ask that there be some compelling demand other than to volunteer records,” Lennon said.

The letters ask the four dioceses to respond by Aug. 1.

In a statement Iowa Catholic Conference Executive Director Tom Chapman issued Monday afternoon, he said the four dioceses plan to comply with Miller’s request “in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

“In fact, most of the information requested is already a matter of public record,” Chapman said. “Also, 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.”

Chapman added if the Catholic Church has failed in the past, “it is not for lack of trying.”

“And after discovering when and where our efforts have fallen short, we will try again; there is no perfection this side of heaven,” he said.

The AG’s office is focused on gathering cases of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior, according to Hicks. One thing that will help them is a hotline they’ve set up for people to call in and report clergy abuse.

The office says eight trained advocates will take down information from survivors who call in. They also have 10 people trained as back-ups to answer calls. Hicks said an attorney or investigator in their office will contact a victim if they need more information.

“We’ll compare the information with what we have gathered already and what we expect to get from the dioceses,” Hicks said.

Lennon, who is the president of the board for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, met with the AG’s office last month. He said he’s been asking for this.

“We understand that because most victims never come forward, that there needs to be an easy access [point] for them to report some of these crimes,” Lennon said.

Earlier this year, the dioceses of Des Moines and Sioux City released lists of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse. The diocese in Des Moines named nine priests involved in allegations occurring between 1940 and 1997. The Sioux City diocese named 28 priests accused of incidents occurring between 1948 and 1995.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.