A small group of Catholics and ex-Catholics met with three of Iowa’s four Catholic bishops Thursday to talk about priest sex abuse scandals. “Catholics for Spiritual Healing” spokeswoman Ann Green of DeWitt says they were “encouraged” that the bishops were willing to meet face-to-face.”This was really an unprecedented meeting. We’re not aware of anywhere else in the country where all the bishops within a state have sat down with a lay group and survivors,” Green says. “We’d like to be say that we’re celebrating about that, but it really is a given that they should have been doing this earlier but we certainly do appreciate that they’ve taken the time.”
Green says she and the others had some demands. At the top of their list: asking that former Sioux City Diocese Bishop Lawrence Soens be forbidden from having contact with minors or allowed to conduct mass. “Although he retired in 1998, he is still operating in an official capacity by celebrating masses throughout the state of Iowa and really being held up in esteem by the Catholic Church,” Green says.
Green says at least 10 accusations of sex abuse have been made against Soens, and in 2004 another bishop paid 20-thousand dollars to settle a lawsuit involving Soens. In April of 2005, Soens was invited to the Vatican to participate in Pope John Paul’s funeral mass.
David Hitch, a priest from Tipton who has joined the “Support Network for those Abused by Priests” after his brother told him he’d been abused back in the 1960s by their parish priest, was at Thursday’s meeting. “We said some rather pointed, blunt things,” Hitch says. “They (The Bishops) seemed to be listening and the fact that they have agreed to respond to what we asked them and also to have another meeting at the end of the month — I felt very good about it.” Hitch says as a priest, he’d like church leaders to become “more accountable” rather than “maintaining that silence” on priest abuse scandals. Hitch says his fellow priests don’t understand why he’s gotten involved.
Bill La Hay of Des Moines was abused as a child by a Catholic priest in California, and La Hay says their group first had to convince the Iowa church leaders they weren’t out to tarnish the reputation of all priests. “It was unfortunately a little bit typical of some of the response we’ve seen in terms of the church sort of bunching up…in a self-protective mode,” Le Hay says. “But..I think by the time we were through he (the Bishop) understood that this was not a hunt for innocent people. It was an attempt to protect other children from being abused.”
La Hay says the guilty priests didn’t just do something wrong, they committed a felony by abusing a child. La Hay supports bills that would get rid of the “statute of limitations” that bars criminal prosecution for the abuse if it occurred years ago.
The Catholics for Spiritual Healing spokeswoman is married to a man who filed a lawsuit alleging he was abused as a child by an eastern Iowa priest and the Davenport Diocese paid him an out-of-court settlement. The new bishop of the Sioux City Diocese was not able to attend Thursday’s meeting due to the death of his mother. An administrator from the Diocese attended in his place.