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Issue Date:  March 3, 2006

Iowa archdiocese settles with 20 sex abuse victims

The Dubuque, Iowa, archdiocese agreed to pay 20 victims of clergy sex abuse $5 million, it was announced Feb. 21. The settlement came after two days of private mediation between the archdiocese and victim’s lawyers.

Archbishop Jerome Hanus and Msgr. James Barta, vicar general, participated in the entire mediation process, which included live or videotaped presentations by each of the claimants, who were minors at the time of the abuse.

Attorneys for the victims said the nonfinancial parts of the agreement are more significant than the monetary award. The archdiocese agreed to:

  • Post the names of all church personnel credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors on the diocesan Web site.
  • At least once a year publish a notice urging victims of sexual abuse to contact law enforcement or the archdiocese.
  • Allow any claimant in the settlement to speak after a Sunday Mass in their home parish or the parish where they were abused.
  • Allow the claimants in the settlement to distribute the settlement proceeds among themselves without intervention by the archdiocese.

“The process has been difficult but healing for my clients,” said Chad Swanson, an attorney for the victims. “The settlement has a positive result to all those who are still living. Two of my clients died during the process.”

As part of the settlement, Hanus apologized to abuse victims publicly and in private letters. Hanus also agreed to meet with each victim who makes that request. He had already met with some victims and their families.

In his public apology, Hanus wrote: “Insofar as I can speak in the name of the entire archdiocese, I express my profound sorrow for what you have endured.

“I apologize for what these priests did to you. What they did was heinous, awful, horrendous, and cries to heaven for vengeance. For you who shared in the settlement, it is my hope that this support may give you some sense of affirmation, justification and validation.”

Hanus also extended “appreciation and gratitude” to the victims “for having the courage to come forward.”

“You help all of us address the suffering sexual abuse brings. You help us recommit ourselves to the task of making the way safe for all God’s children in today’s churches, families and the world,” he wrote.

In exchange for the settlement, 15 pending lawsuits and five claims against the archdiocese will be dropped. The first of those lawsuits was to go to trial March 7 in Dubuque County.

The plaintiffs include 12 men and eight women.

The nine priests accused of sexual abuse and the year the abuse allegedly occurred are: Albert Carman, 1954; William Goltz, 1952-58 and 1954; Patrick McElliott, 1959-63 and 1964; Julius Olinger, 1957-58; John Peters, 1962; Robert Reiss, 1962-64; William Roach, 1962 and 1972; John Schmitz, 1959; and William Schwartz, 1964-66 and 1978.

All the priests are deceased except Schwartz, who was defrocked by the Vatican in January.

A statement from the victims’ attorneys said the group is assured “that the archdiocese is taking steps and will continue to take steps to reduce or eliminate the risk that such conduct involving church personnel will ever again occur within the boundaries of the archdiocese of Dubuque.”

“Archbishop Hanus should be commended for choosing to take this step to further the healing process for these individuals,” the statement said.

-- NCR staff and wire services

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2006

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