Smart, brave victims of Dubuque area predator priests have forced Catholic officials there – as part of lawsuit settlements - to post names of child molesting clerics on the archdiocesan website. We’re always thrilled when survivors use lawsuits to pry information from the church hierarchy and use that information to warn parents about pedophiles.
But there is helpful information that illuminates and less helpful information that obfuscates.
The Dubuque Archdiocese seems committed to less helpful information that obfuscates.
Let’s carefully look at the details on the archdiocesan website about child molesting clerics.
First, Archbishop Michael Jackels calls the list a “Table of Accused Priests.” The implication is, of course, that every person listed is merely “accused.”
But of course, this isn’t true. At least two of them have pled guilty to child sex crimes in criminal court. At least one has been defrocked. (See footnotes below.)
Second, look at what numbers Dubuque Catholic officials choose to provide.
-- the priest's birth year and
-- the EARLIEST years the abuse happened or allegedly happened
Why those numbers? What use is it to anyone to know these particular figures?
Because those numbers suggest very elderly sex offender priest committed these clergy sex crimes long, long ago. They help foster the self-serving but inaccurate impression bishops try so hard to convey: that the church’s horrific, centuries-old clergy sex abuse crisis is a thing of the past.
That’s not only wrong. It’s also reckless. It endangers children because it leads to premature and unhealthy complacency.
Now ponder the numbers Dubuque Catholic officials choose NOT to provide.
-- how many kids did the priest molest or allegedly molest and
-- when the most RECENT abuse happened or allegedly happened.
These numbers are potentially helpful. I suspect that more parents would be more apt to ask more kids if they were ever hurt by Fr. X if they knew Dubuque Catholic officials had received 40 or 50 abuse reports by his alleged victims.
And I suspect that more parents would be more apt to ask more kids if they were ever hurt by Fr. Y if they knew Dubuque Catholic officials had received recent abuse reports by his alleged victims (if they knew, for example, that Fr. Y had been accused of molesting in 2006, not just in 1976).
Then there’s the question of what kind of information local Catholics and citizens might well WANT to have.
I suspect that Iowa parents are more interested in whether Fr. William T. Schwartz reportedly molested two kids or 92 kids than they are in what decades he committed those crimes.
And I suspect that Iowa parents are more interested in whether Fr. Allen Schmitt has molested in 2004 than they are in what year he was ordained.
So again, we are grateful to each of the more than 80 courageous victims who have overcome fear and depression and found the strength to disclose their pain, expose their predators and force Catholic officials to name many of those predators. We are encouraged by their achievements.
But we’ll be even more encouraged if ever we see Dubuque Catholic staffers’ names of child molesting clerics and helpful details about them, details that illuminate – not obfuscate – their crimes.
FOOTNOTE - One cleric, Fr. Timothy DeVenney, pled guilty in 1997 to child sex crimes and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Another local Catholic employee, teacher Dale Soppe, plead guilty to child sex crimes in 2008 in Wisconsin and was sentenced to two months in jail, two years of probation.
(DeVenney was released from prison on parole in December of 2001 and was reportedly living outside Washington DC in a home run by a religious order. Soppe is a registered sex offender in Wisconsin but lives in Iowa.)
In 2003, I wrote the Dubuque Archdiocese Review Board for Sexual Abuse of Minors about my sexual abuse at age 13 (1951) by Rev. Robert Swift, Sacred Heart, Oelwein (1950-1953). I told the board I saw him abuse others. The Archdiocese said I was the fifth person to accuse Rev. Swift. Since then, a woman told me of her abuse by Rev. Swift at Sacred Heart. Later, a man told me he and his brother, while in grade school, were sexually abused by Rev. Swift in Holy Family Parish, Mason City (1940-1947), and he knew of others. One of the claimants in the 2008 lawsuit was abused by Rev. Swift at Holy Family, New Melleray (1956-1963).
In 2006 I wrote a letter to the Dubuque Telegraph Herald to publicly accuse Rev. Swift because his name was not in the " Table of Accused Priests". I wrote about boys I knew who were abused by Rev. William Goltz (in the Table) and Rev. Thomas Knox (was not in the Table). Rev. Knox, Rev. Goltz and Rev. Swift were priests at Sacred Heart, Oelwein, during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The archdiocese informed me of other accusations against Rev. Knox and Rev. Goltz.
In 1969, Rev. Swift was granted a leave of absence, which is not noted in the “Table of Accused Priests”. I have since heard a rumor that he was in trouble because of his “sex education” activities at Sacred Heart, Walker (1963-1969). There seems to be a pattern of sexual abuses by Rev. Swift, cover ups, and reassignments from 1945 to at least 1969.
BTW, Rev. Swift was very active in Boy Scouts his entire career. He was recognized in 1970 for his over 30 years of service. That is very troubling to me.
Yes, David, more details about these abusive priests would be very helpful. All accusations against these priests should be chronicled in the " Table of Accused Priests". It was over 50 years before I told anyone about my abuse. I have since found that the more information I have, the more healing I experience. A very important reason for greater transparency.
Keep up the good work.
Daniel Kortenkamp, PhD