Church Officials in Sioux City Hid Allegations for Thirty Years, SNAP Responds
For more than 30 years Iowa Catholic officials knew a priest had abused at least 50 kids but kept silent. By protecting Fr. Jerome Coyle, the Diocese of Sioux City actively put other children at risk.
According to the Associated Press, Sioux City Catholic officials have "hidden for decades a priest's admission that he sexually abused dozens of Iowa boys." Also according to the AP, Fr. Coyle is still alive and resides in a retirement home in Fort Dodge, across the street from a Catholic school. The priest spent years and years living "under the radar" in New Mexico before a recent move back to Iowa.
What happens next is crucial. Every single Sioux City church employee - from bishop to bookkeeper - should mount an aggressive effort to find and help others who may have been hurt by Fr. Coyle. Chancery officials should turn over every page of his personnel file to law enforcement. From pulpits this Sunday, priests should beg victims, witnesses and whistle blowers to call police. On church websites and in parish bulletins, similar pleas should be made. The bishop must visit every site where Fr. Coyle worked, prodding those with information or suspicion to come forward. And he must hire outside investigators to determine which church staff helped Fr. Coyle evade detection. Those still on the job should be fired.
We beg to differ with the AP in two ways. First, we disagree that church officials' silence "may" have put other children in danger. The priest made a recent admission to a friend that he "could not guarantee that he would be able to refrain from fondling" the man's son. Children were, in fact, at risk because bishops, priests, lawyers and other church staff kept quiet about Fr. Coyle's acknowledged crimes.
Second, while the AP is correct in reporting that Fr. Coyle is unlikely to be prosecuted for any of his long-ago offenses because the statute of limitation has run out, we believe criminal charges against him are certainly still possible. Over the past decade, we have seen police and prosecutors become more determined and creative in pursuing even older child sex crimes and cover ups. And we have seen brave victims become even more determined to find other victims who have been assaulted more recently. So we would urge no one to give up here. We encourage everyone who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by Fr. Coyle or cover ups by his colleagues to call law enforcement, no matter how long ago the crimes were seen or the suspicions were aroused.
It is our job as citizens to tell police and prosecutors what we know and believe. It is their job to do all they can to seek justice and protect others.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)