By Barb Arland-Fye
Thirteen men have dropped lawsuits against retired Iowa Bishop Lawrence Soens hoping the Vatican will punish him for abusing them 40 or more years ago.
The men recently received compensation from the $37 million settlement approved last year in U.S. Bankruptcy Court between the Diocese of Davenport and 151 creditors who were survivors of clergy sexual abuse.
The 13 men attended Regina High School in Iowa City in the 1960s when then-Father Soens was principal. The first lawsuits against him were filed four years ago, but the men no longer believe that is the best course of action, said their attorney Craig Levien of Davenport. Bishop Soens denies the allegations against him.
“Healing isn’t just about money,” Levien told The Catholic Messenger. “Part of healing is to make sure the church and the Vatican step up and discipline a bishop. We don’t feel there should be a double standard for a bishop vs. a priest.”
Ordained a priest of the Davenport Diocese in 1950, Bishop Soens was accused of sexually abusing students at Regina High School in the 1950s and 1960s when he was its principal. He also was accused of sexually abusing a male minor when he was rector of St. Ambrose Seminary in Davenport. He served as a priest of the diocese from 1950-83 before becoming bishop of the Sioux City Diocese. He retired in 1998 and does nothing publicly in the Sioux City Diocese, its spokeswoman said.
The Diocese of Davenport’s Review Board found that certain allegations of sexual abuse against the retired bishop were credible. The board did not review all 31 allegations against him because some claimants did not want their claims reviewed by the board.
The Diocese of Davenport has no authority to discipline a bishop, which Levien acknowledges. “That doesn’t excuse those who have jurisdiction over Bishop Soens from taking action,” he said.
In a statement released June 1, the Davenport Diocese said it wants to “reiterate that it sent all of the information about Soens to the Vatican and it is the Vatican, not the diocese that determines any punishment for a bishop. The diocese has been sending this information, as it was received, for several years, not just because of the bankruptcy.”
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the U.S. bishops adopted in 2002, calls for any cleric who has sexually abused a minor to be removed permanently from ministry or laicized.
Levien and his clients believe the same punishment ought to apply to abusive bishops.
“They want the church itself to acknowledge (Bishop Soens’) misdeeds and take the appropriate action. Certainly all forms of authority and the prestige of the office should be taken away from him.”