By Barb Arland-Fye
Two different standards for determining credibility of clergy sexual abuse claims compelled a bankruptcy judge to order the names of three deceased priests to be posted on the Diocese of Davenport website.
Diocesan leaders believe the 40-year-old accusations against the three priests are not substantiated by clear and convincing evidence. Bishop Martin Amos must decide by Sept. 4 whether to appeal the judge’s decision or post the names with an explanation about the difference between standards of evidence.
Kathleen Bowman, the Iowa woman who made the accusations, received a settlement from the bankruptcy court’s special arbitrator based on her claims. She said she was abused as a young child by the three priests: Fathers John Bonn, Michael Broderick and William Dawson, and she identified them by name in articles published in the Quad-City Times this summer. She further claimed that the diocese has failed to comply with nonmonetary bankruptcy requirements by not placing these names on the diocese’s website list of credibly accused clergy and lay people. The three priests’ names do not appear on the diocesan website because the Review Board found the accusations were not substantiated by clear and convincing evidence. Thirty-two names of credibly accused individuals are listed on the website.
The Review Board, composed of seven individuals — both clergy and lay people — was formed 10 years ago by the Davenport Diocese in accordance with the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
“These Review Board members take seriously their commitment to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from situations and individuals who would harm them sexually.
“Our job is to review information presented by survivors, investigators and the accused and then advise Bishop Martin Amos in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons and their suitability for ministry,” said Chris McCormick Pries, who chairs the Review Board.
“We recognize that sexual abuse of children is a heinous crime when committed by anyone, but especially so when the perpetrator is a trusted adult such as a parish priest. The ripple effect of this abuse wreaks havoc with the lives of the survivors and their family and friends. We also know how devastating it is when innocent individuals are accused of this crime and unable to defend themselves and their reputation. Therefore, each case is reviewed with serious and comprehensive deliberation.
“In this particular case, we had no doubt that the individual had suffered in her life. However, there was no evidence presented that would attach the abuse to these three deceased priests,” said McCormick Pries, who has years of experience in mental health nursing.
“In many of the cases that come to the Review Board, the situations occurred years ago and individuals are relying on decades-old memories that can become distorted over time. Most of these individuals have suffered abuse, but not necessarily abuse by priests,” McCormick Pries said.
Court-appointed private investigator James Sweeney performed an exhaustive investigation of Bowman’s claim that she was abused by the three priests. That investigation included an interview with her sister, who contradicted many details of the claim, said Rand Wonio, an attorney for the diocese. The Review Board examined hundreds of pages of documents and met at length with Bowman and her attorney before determining that evidence of abuse by the three priests was not sufficiently corroborated.
“She was treated at all times with compassion and fairness and some of her requests for changes in the wording of certain diocesan policies have been accepted and are being implemented,” Wonio said.
Craig Levien, an attorney who represents Bowman, said the special arbitrator “did make a finding that she was credible and that she was abused by the three priests.” She received money from a future claims fund established for clergy sexual abuse survivors who have come forward after confirmation of the diocese’s reorganization plan, a component of the $37 million bankruptcy settlement approved in 2008. Levien noted that the fund contains close to $1 million that is available to survivors of abuse who may still submit a claim. The diocese has no involvement in the claims process.
Under terms of the reorganization plan, the special arbitrator determined monetary awards based on a preponderance of evidence. The Review Board, in considering claims against deceased priests who have no way of defending themselves, required greater proof called clear and convincing evidence, said Dick Davidson, the attorney who led the diocese’s bankruptcy case.
In determining whether to post names of accused individuals on the diocesan website, the Review Board evaluates whether a particular individual has admitted to abuse, has been proven guilty in a court of law or has been credibly accused.
“The judge acknowledged in her order that there are different standards of proof. The special arbitrator is not the Review Board,” Davidson said. “The judge did not order us to list these (three deceased priests) as credibly accused priests.”
Bankruptcy Judge Lee Jackwig did not review the investigation performed by Sweeney. But because Bowman received money based on her claim, Judge Jackwig ordered the diocese to “list on its website the names of the priests that the survivor identified and for whose acts her matrix claim was paid.” The judge said the diocese “may explain that its review process and evidentiary standard differ from those utilized by the Special Arbitrator …”
“The Review Board will continue to take very seriously its commitment to bring clarity to these cases and act in the appropriate manner to do what is right and just,” McCormick Pries said.
Review Board members
The members of the Diocesan Review Board are:
• The Honorable Clarence Darrow: partner in the law firm of Law Offices of Clarence Darrow; Illinois circuit judge with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases 1986-1996; Illinois Senate and House of Representatives for 11 years, assistant state’s attorney in Rock Island County for four years, psychiatric social worker from 1966-1971 in group, marital and family counseling as well as a Child Abuse Investigator/Court Liaison.
• Catherine Fouts: past president of the Diocesan Board of Education and vice president of the Newton Community School District Board of Education.
• Bernard Hardiek: retired past-president of the Deere & Company Worldwide Agricultural Equipment Division; Internal Revenue Service for 16 years as field audit branch chief, chief of the appeals office and assistant regional commissioner, appeals, in Chicago.
• Father Tony Herold, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, and chairman of the Priests’ Personnel Board.
• Msgr. James Parizek, JCL, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport, Promoter of Justice for the Diocese of Davenport; past Assistant Chancellor and Diocesan Judicial Vicar.
• Chris McCormick Pries, ARNP: associate director for research, evaluation and community relations with Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport; Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, holding certification as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in child and adolescent psychiatric and mental health nursing from the American Nurses Association; and earlier held positions of assistant director for quality assurance, coordinator of adolescent outpatient services, chief of nursing services, psychiatric nurse on the child/adolescent team, and consultant on the consultation team.
• Father Joe Wolf, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, Judicial Vicar and Vice Chancellor of the Diocese of Davenport.