By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Bishop Martin Amos said his stomach churned before each of the 54 atonement services he presided at during the last 10 months throughout the Diocese of Davenport.
It’s not easy to stand in front of a group in church and name priests who sexually abused children and wonder what the reaction would be, he told The Catholic Messenger.
He presided at the final atonement service June 14 at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The services were one of 18 non-monetary commitments the diocese agreed to fulfill as part of its bankruptcy settlement with 156 survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
Atonement services were scheduled where clergy sexual abuse of a minor had occurred or where a perpetrator had served. Most of the abuse occurred in the 1950s through 1970s. The earliest claim dates back to the 1930s, the most recent claim 2003.
A few survivors dismissed the diocese’s atonement services as meeting a requirement.
But Bishop Amos said, “It was something I also chose to do.”
Each service followed the same format: naming of abusive priests, making an apology, providing a question and answer session and a prayer service. “We were very careful to be sure that all of the atonement services were conducted in the same way,” the bishop said.
He meant every apology he made. “I’m not unaffected by this,” he said, referring to abusive priests he had known in his home diocese of Cleveland, Ohio.
And he vowed to do everything in his power to prevent abuse from happening again.
“It is certainly my hope that in the years ahead the church will be one of the safest places for children,” the bishop said during his atonement service homily.
Comments at atonement services varied from parish to parish. “Some were concerned about the priests who were named; some about those who were abused; some asked what we were doing to protect children now and in the future.”
Some people talked about how the abusive priest had seemed so nice and did many good things for the parish. “My comment was that (the abusive priests) appeared to be nice people. That’s how they won people over,” Bishop Amos said.
Some people lashed out at the diocese, but most people were respectful, the bishop said.
“One of the more touching comments was when a lady turned toward two survivors and expressed sorrow for what they had suffered and said that it was her hope and prayer that God and the church would remain in their lives.”
Survivor Michl Uhde questioned during the service at Sacred Heart whether the diocese needed to re-consecrate the cathedral because a profane act — clergy sexual abuse — had occurred there.
After consulting with a canon lawyer and others, Bishop Amos said the atonement service fulfilled the requirement.
Uhde also questioned why names of other abusive priests were not made public. Bishop Amos said the Diocesan Review Board determined 15 claims of abuse were not credible.
Another participant at the service, Gary Lane, said the $37 million settlement figure was inaccurate because the diocese’s chancery property has been sold for less than the appraised price of $3.9 million.
Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director, said later that the diocese didn’t control sale of the property, which was deeded to bankruptcy court.
Bishop Amos said the atonement services were not easy, but he’s glad the diocese did them. “I hope and believe it had a healing effect on at least some.”
Alicia Owens, the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator, also participated in each service, as did Deacon Montgomery.
“These services were focused on all of those people who have been affected by the clergy sexual abuse to our minors,” Owens said. “As Bishop Amos said in his homily during those services everyone has been affected in different ways and at different levels. I have worked closely with some of those men and women who were sexually abused by priests and many of them have voiced appreciation for the atonement service as well as indicated that it has helped them in some positive way.
“I want all of us to continue to keep all abuse victims in our prayers, and see what we can do together to reach out to those who have been abused, as well as make sure that sexual abuse by clergy does not happen again.”