Monday, November 03, 2008

From Survivors' Desk, a New First

In a first, a diocesan review board has judged credible an allegation of sex abuse by a bishop.

Head of the Sioux City diocese from 1983 to 1998, the finding against Bishop Lawrence Soens was announced earlier today by the Iowa diocese of Davenport, where the prelate, now 82, served prior to his episcopal appointment:
Soens [and three others] will be added to a list of clergy credibly accused of sexually abusing children, the diocese announced this afternoon....

The review board found Soens guilty of sexually abusing students at Iowa City Regina High School in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was principal. Soens was also found guilty of sexually abusing a male minor when Soens was rector of the St. Ambrose Seminary.

"That is monumental for the diocese to admit that one of their bishops is a credibly accused abuser," said Mike Uhde, an abuse victim who lives in Davenport.

The report on Soens will be sent to the Vatican, where Pope Benedict XVI will decide whether the former bishop of the Sioux City Diocese will be defrocked, said Deacon David Montgomery.
According to another local report, "31 males" reported allegations against Soens to the diocese.

Under the weight of massive abuse-related claims against it, the Davenport church entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2006. In May, it agreed to a $37 million payout plan to over 150 survivors.

Soens is the second retired prelate whose past has come to the fore in recent months; in late August, the Kansas City-St Joseph diocese paid a $10 million settlement to a group of 47 victims who cited Bishop-emeritus Joseph Hart of Cheyenne among 12 clerics responsible for their abuse.

Now living in a gated community in the Wyoming capital, Hart has made no comment of his own since the Missouri settlement.

In a separate development today, Davenport announced that the diocese's former vicar-general had been found not guilty by an ecclesiastical tribunal of an allegation made in 2003 dating back more than three decades. Now restored to active ministry, Msgr Drake Shafer awaits reassignment.