By Barb Arland-Fye
Bankruptcy Judge Lee Jackwig found shortcomings in the Diocese of Davenport’s compliance with a nonmonetary agreement with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. But she said she hopes the survivors feel at least a little bit better about the efforts of Bishop Martin Amos and the diocese to prevent abuse from happening in the future.
Her observations came at the end of a 2-1/2-hour hearing Oct. 7 in U.S. District Court in Davenport where Bishop Amos testified about his and the diocese’s compliance with the nonmonetary portion of a $37 million bankruptcy settlement that was approved in 2008. Also testifying were the diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator Alicia Owens and abuse survivor Steve Alex, who described the trauma he experienced as a child. He expressed suicidal feelings while testifying and begged the judge and the diocese for counseling, which he said the diocese had previously turned him down for.
A debate ensued between attorneys over responsibility for obtaining counseling for survivors, like Alex, who have received the minimum $10,000 bankruptcy payment. Diocesan attorneys said that since the settlement plan did not provide for counseling after a payment was received, Alex was referred to the bankruptcy trustee’s legal counsel who also advised him the plan did not provide for counseling after payment was received. Alex told the bishop after the hearing that he did not blame him, and Bishop Amos told Alex that he was not at fault for what happened to him as a child. The diocese will provide Alex with counseling, as the judge requested.
Judge Jackwig gave attorneys for both sides three weeks to fine-tune the nonmonetary agreement and to resolve disputes over specific items. If agreement can’t be reached, the settlement trustee will issue a report and the diocese will have an additional two weeks to respond.
Among the disputes was the extent to which Bishop Amos should publicly support elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. He said his support has been reported in The Catholic Messenger, the diocesan newspaper, and expressed on a couple of occasions at atonement services in parishes around the diocese.
Attorney Craig Levien, who represents some survivors in the bankruptcy case, asked Bishop Amos why elimination of the statute wasn’t listed as one of the 82 priorities of the Iowa Catholic Conference, the bishops’ lobbying arm. Levien also asked Bishop Amos why he hadn’t expressed his support to Iowa legislators at an Iowa Catholic Conference-sponsored meeting in March in Des Moines. Bishop Amos said he didn’t think he was obligated to bring the matter forward.
“You have an opportunity to make a difference,” Judge Jackwig told Bishop Amos. “I will do that, your honor,” the bishop said.
Other areas of dispute:
Reports on retired Bishop Lawrence Soens submitted to the Apostolic Nuncio (the Vatican representative to the United States). Bishop Soens, the retired bishop of Sioux City, was accused of abusing students while he was a priest in the Davenport Diocese. The creditors’ attorneys want the reports made public. The diocese said canon law prohibits its public release.
Priest affidavits. All priests working in the diocese were required to sign an affidavit that they have never sexually abused a minor or know of any other priest or diocesan employee who has abused anyone. Levien questioned the language in the affidavits. He wants priests to sign an affidavit every year. Bishop Amos said the priests are well aware of reporting and prevention efforts. For that reason, he believes annual affidavits are unnecessary.
Posting of plaques in diocesan schools. Levien wants each school to provide a sworn statement of the date of posting and placement of plaques that contain information about sexual abuse. Bishop Amos said he would have no objection to that request.
Levien also requested release of the names of 23 accused sexual abusers whose names have not been made public, but whose victims received a bankruptcy payment. Levien questioned why those abusers’ names hadn’t been released along with other know abusers. Diocesan bankruptcy attorney Dick Davidson said only the names of credibly accused abusers are listed on the diocesan Web site. The additional names were determined in the bankruptcy court process, which the diocese was not privy to. Creditors’ attorneys will furnish those names to the diocese.
Davidson said after the hearing that it’s not abundantly clear what each party’s expectations are, and that’s why they will be working together to clarify them. “I figured there would be some shortcomings … this is a process. We’ll correct (the shortcomings) and meet the judge’s expectations.”