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DES MOINES — Citing “overwhelming” incidents of abuse and "extensive" cover-up that spanned decades, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller issued a report Wednesday detailing 50 complaints his office received about allegations of sexual impropriety by Catholic clergy, non-clergy or spiritual leaders — including 17 victims who had not previously come forward to report abuse to authorities.
The report concluded the Catholic Church in Iowa has had a "long, painful history of abuse by priests and a cover-up by officials" but has taken steps recently to implement reforms and respond to victims.
According to Miller, his office looked into 50 complaints of sexual abuse and misconduct reported to the Attorney General’s Office. Of those, 45 complaints were against Catholic clergy or others involved in the Catholic church and five were about non-Catholic pastors or spiritual leaders. The complaints made accusations against 36 Catholic priests or brothers.
“Sexual abuse took place over decades. The complaints, the victims, the duration of the abuse were overwhelming," the report concluded. “Our hearts go out to the victims of these acts. The consequences are severe and lifelong.”
None of the complaints involving Catholic clergy fall within the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution, the report said. The allegations ranged from the 1930s to 1997.
Three of the allegations involved currently active Catholic priests, and according to the report 29 complaints named a priest or priests who are included on one of the Diocese lists of credibly accused priests. Overall, 17 of the complainants said they had never reported the allegations previously to any authorities.
"The cover-up was extensive," according to the report. "The image and reputation of the church were put ahead of the enormous harm to young people."
Documents released Wednesday verify that one of the allegations reviewed was a complaint last year from a man who alleged he was forced to have sex by a priest at the Boys State Training School in Eldora in the early 1990s.
The name of the priest and the complainant were withheld, but the allegations match those made by Rick Harrison, a Wisconsin prison inmate, in a November article in The Gazette. Harrison, 45, told the newspaper he was forced by a chaplain to have sex in dark corners and private rooms of the state school in Eldora in the 1990 or 1991, when Harrison was a teenager. He said he filed a complaint with the Eldora Police Department, which the agency verified, and with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which declined to comment at the time.
The report released Wednesday says in investigating the Eldora complaint, the Dubuque Archdiocese provided documents about allegations in the late 1980s and early 1990s involving five additional people.
“The priest was dismissed from state employment in 1991 because of allegations of indecent contact,” the report states. “The priest denied the charges. After a series of hearings, an administrative law judge ruled that the charges were ‘undetermined.’ Because the allegations were made to the state institution, and not the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese accepted the investigation and findings of the judge.”
The archdiocese received two more allegations against the same priest, but the people did not want to pursue investigations, the report states. The Attorney General reported this priest is retired but “has duties in the diocese.”
While citing a history of abuse by priests and a cover-up by officials, the Attorney General’s Office noted in a news release that the Dioceses of the Catholic Church in Iowa have enacted many reforms over the last two decades, have become more responsive to victims of clergy abuse and each now reports all accusations to law enforcement.
Miller began to focus on clergy sex abuse in Iowa after the release in 2018 by the Pennsylvania Attorney General of a grand jury report that revealed over 300 Catholic priests across that state sexually abused children for 70 years.
The Iowa attorney said he was "appalled" by the Pennsylvania findings and in November 2018 announced he was gathering information on sexual abuse of children by clergy in Iowa. He and his staff began meeting with Catholic Church officials on a voluntary basis, as well as meeting with survivors of clergy sex abuse. "The goal is to tell the truth about what has happened and, through that process, potentially provide some accountability and closure," according to the report issued Wednesday.
Early in 2019, two of Iowa’s dioceses — Sioux City and Des Moines — released their first lists of credibly accused priests. The Davenport Diocese and Dubuque Archdiocese had previously released such lists.
In June 2019, Miller announced he had met with Iowa’s four bishops and sent them a letter requesting more information. He also launched a hotline and online submission form, inviting survivors to report abuse.
The office’s investigation focused on two areas: examining complaints reported to the office alleging abuse by clergy — of any religion or denomination — and particularly those that had not been previously reported; and reviewing decisions by Iowa dioceses to include some accused priests on their published lists but exclude others.
The dioceses agreed to provide confidential information, including accusations, summaries of review board decisions and other internal documents.
Since the review began, three names were added to the list in the Diocese of Sioux City and one name was added to the list in the Diocese of Davenport.
"None of the current bishops have been involved in handling previous complaints and resulting cover-ups," the report noted.
The Catholic bishops of Iowa — Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport, Bishop William Joensen of Des Moines, Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, and Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City — released a joint statement Wednesday, saying they agreed two years ago to comply with the request to submit documents requested.
"The report on the Attorney General’s review of cases was released today and will be studied for suggestions on how the efforts of the Catholic Church might be improved." according to the bishops' statement. "The Catholic Church is committed to do all that is humanly possible to protect minors from the sin and crime of clergy sexual abuse, and to promote healing. Policies and procedures in place provide for responding to each allegation, cooperating with civil authorities, removing offenders from ministry, and being held accountable."
According to the report, the unreported allegations included an accusation against the Rev. Robert “Bud” Grant, who is on the faculty at St. Ambrose University and a priest in the Des Moines Diocese. The diocese conducted an eight-month investigation as a result and placed Grant on restrictions and supervision, the report said.
Of the reports regarding non-Catholic pastors, two involve allegations within the statute of limitations for prosecution. These allegations involve possible adult victims.
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Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed to this report.