Judge: Diocese can Shield Names of Accused Priests
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The Diocese of Davenport likely will release the names of two non-clergy members suspected of sexually abusing minors decades ago, but will withhold the names of 18 priests whose accusers received financial settlements during its bankruptcy, its attorney says.
A Diocese review board that meets Friday is expected to add the names of a volunteer football coach and a former janitor at a long-closed school to its online list of perpetrators of abuse, attorney Rand Wonio said. But he said a recent ruling allows the diocese to keep secret the names of priests who were the subject of abuse allegations that a review board found to be not credible.
The developments come as the diocese emerges from bankruptcy protections that it sought during the sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic church. The diocese, which covers much of eastern Iowa, filed for bankruptcy in 2006, saying it did not have enough money to cover all the legal claims it faced for alleged abuse dating back to the 1940s.
The bankruptcy filing led to a $37 million settlement — funded by the diocese and its insurer — that compensated more than 160 victims and a reorganization in which the diocese took steps to investigate and prevent abuse and better protect minors. Its terms included the creation of a list of credible allegations of abuse on its website, which currently includes 31 former priests, their places of employment, dates and other details.
Before closing its bankruptcy case last month, Judge Lee Jackwig ordered the diocese to complete investigations into the cases involving the former coach and janitor and release their names if the allegations were found to be credible.
The former coach was convicted of abusing children 40 years ago at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bettendorf, Wonio said, but the diocese had not been sure whether to add his name to the list since he was not a priest.
Wonio said the diocese only has the last name of the janitor accused of sexual abuse in 1954 in connection with his employment at the now-closed St. Anthony's school in Davenport. But he said a witness has corroborated the allegations and that "based on the preliminary investigation, the name will likely be posted."
"These are the last two loose ends that we need to tie up in compliance with the court order, and we're going to do so," he said.
In the ruling last month, Jackwig said the diocese did not have to release the names of 18 priests who were accused of sexual abuse, even though their alleged victims were awarded payments by a court-appointed arbitrator. She said their names could be shielded because the diocese review board separately investigated each claim but did not find any of them credible.
In court documents, the diocese says accusers of four of the priests did not provide information to the review board while detailed reviews of the other cases did not yield enough proof to confirm the allegations. The diocese had argued that forcing it to post the names in those cases would violate the priests' right to a fair hearing.
Jackwig originally had ordered the release of the names of all accused priests where claims were paid, before she reconsidered. The change was opposed by alleged victims and their attorneys, who argue the diocese investigation process is flawed and shrouded in secrecy.
Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents many of the accusers, said some of his clients were interested in asking the court to review whether the Diocese of Davenport should add more names to the list.
"We do not believe (the diocese is) currently in compliance," he said. "I think there will be some future filings on this."
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