Iowa attorney general seeking Catholic Church records on clergy abuse

“We appreciate the efforts that you have undergone to produce your list of clergy who committed abuse,” Attorney General Tom Miller wrote to the leaders of Iowa’s four Catholic Dioceses on May 31. “But we believe that in this context, a credible third-party review is warranted and will add to transparency, reconciliation, and healing.”

Miller is asking the bishops to turn over extensive records related to alleged abuse each Diocese has investigated.

The attorney general’s letters to the bishops serving in Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, and Sioux City are enclosed in full below. A June 3 news release noted that Miller is seeking, among other records,

  • Lists of all priests, deacons, or other clergy who have been deemed as “credibly accused” of sexual abuse by the dioceses, as well as the definition of “credibly accused,” “sexual misconduct” and “sexual abuse.”
  • Lists of accused clergy in which the dioceses deemed the accusation “not credible.”
  • Notes from meetings of diocesan boards of reviews that were convened to consider accusations.
  • Documentations of reports of abuse received by diocesan officials and actions taken.
  • Copies of all settlement agreements that diocesan officials entered into with abuse survivors.
  • A footnote clarified, “All records shall exclude the name of any victim or alleged victim of abuse and shall exclude any [or] all other identifying information of any victim or alleged victim of abuse.” Rather, the Attorney General’s office is asking for “non-identifying” descriptions of who reported each alleged incident.

    Along with settlement agreements, Miller wants copies of “any accompanying non-disclosure agreement(s)” and the amount paid by the Diocese, as well as “the source of the funds used to satisfy the terms of the settlement” and the name of the church representative whose misconduct led to the settlement.

    The letters asked for records to be provided by August 1, adding that staff “would be willing to work with you on a reasonable timeline” if the Diocese needs more time to compile the materials.

    Miller’s letters were nearly identical, other than one line that appeared in the messages to the bishops in Des Moines and Sioux City, but not the others: “We also appreciate that you have released more information on clergy abuse that occurred in your Diocese.”

    Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press in October 2018 that the Sioux City Diocese

    concealed for decades a priest’s admission that he sexually abused dozens of Iowa boys — a silence that may have put other children in danger.

    The Rev. Jerome Coyle, now 85, was stripped of his parish assignments in the 1980s but never defrocked. And it was not until this week, after the Associated Press inquired about him, that he was publicly identified by the church as an admitted pedophile, even though the Diocese of Sioux City had been aware of his conduct for 32 years.

    The diocese recently helped Coyle move into a retirement home in Fort Dodge without informing administrators at the Catholic school across the street.

    The Sioux City Diocese later promised to publish a list “list of priests who have been credibly accused of abusing minors.” They followed through in February of this year, releasing names of 28 priests (of whom 22 were deceased). The Des Moines Diocese followed suit in April, when it “publicly named nine priests it said are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while serving the diocese.”

    As part of today’s announcement, the Attorney General’s office said survivors can report clergy abuse by calling a new hotline, 855-620-7000. According to communications director Lynn Hicks, phone calls to that number will be directed to the Crime Victim Assistance Division. “We have eight primary trained individuals assigned to answer these calls (two bilingual for Spanish-speaking callers) and an additional 10 trained as backups,” he added. Staff from the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault provided assistance to the Attorney General’s staff prior to the hotline’s launch, that organization’s communications specialist Matty Smith told Bleeding Heartland.

    Iowa Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen praised Miller in a June 3 written statement but called for a broader inquiry and stronger state laws to support survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

    “Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller has taken two steps in the right direction today by requesting records on clergy abuse from Catholic dioceses in Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque and Sioux City; and by establishing a hotline — 855-620-7000 — for survivors to call and report abuse.

    “I am grateful for the many survivors of child sex abuse who have stepped forward to tell their stories and to advocate for justice.

    “It’s important that we continue to listen to survivors to fix Iowa’s laws. Survivors of child sex abuse deserve a pathway to justice. Iowans, and our children especially, will be safer when we know the truth about sex offenders among us and have a better understanding of how to prevent child sex abuse.

    “While the Attorney General’s request of the Catholic dioceses was limited only to clergy, I am hopeful he will expand the scope of the investigation to include any sex abuse reported in their dioceses. I am also hopeful additional investigations will ensue based on information uncovered through the hotline.

    “The Legislature must work next session to pass meaningful legislation to remove Iowa’s criminal and civil statute of limitations and give adult survivors a five-year period to seek justice. I will also support legislation to give the Attorney General expanded powers to go after sexual predators and organizations that cover up the crime.”

    May 31 letters from Attorney General Tom Miller to the bishops of Iowa’s four Catholic dioceses:

    Full text of June 3 news release from the Iowa Attorney General’s office:

    AG’s office seeks diocese records on clergy abuse, creates hotline for survivors
    ‘A credible third-party review is warranted,’ Miller says
    DES MOINES — The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has sent letters to the dioceses of Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque and Sioux City, requesting information on records of clergy sexual abuse.

    The office also has launched a hotline — 855-620-7000 — for survivors to call and report abuse. Trained advocates will be available to gather information from survivors. Survivors can also fill out a questionnaire at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov (A Spanish-language version is available here.) An investigator will review the reports and may seek additional information. The identities of survivors will remain confidential.

    In the letters to the bishops, Attorney General Tom Miller notes that his office has met with survivors of abuse by clergy and invited victims to contact the office. “In some cases, their stories have never been made public. These survivors have urged us to investigate and bring attention to the injustice they and others have suffered,” he writes. “We agree that full transparency is necessary to provide justice and ultimately, reconciliation and healing.”

    Miller expresses appreciation to the bishops for meeting with him and making public the lists of credibly accused priests. “But we believe that in this context, a credible third-party review is warranted.”

    The request seeks records and files on several topics, including:

  • Lists of all priests, deacons, or other clergy who have been deemed as “credibly accused” of sexual abuse by the dioceses, as well as the definition of “credibly accused,” “sexual misconduct” and “sexual abuse.”
  • Lists of accused clergy in which the dioceses deemed the accusation “not credible.”
  • Notes from meetings of diocesan boards of reviews that were convened to consider accusations.
  • Documentations of reports of abuse received by diocesan officials and actions taken.
  • Copies of all settlement agreements that diocesan officials entered into with abuse survivors.

    Miller asked that the bishops respond to the request by Aug. 1, 2019.

    To report abuse
    The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is gathering information regarding sexual abuse by spiritual leaders and clergy in Iowa to better understand this issue and evaluate what actions it can take. To report, call 855-620-7000 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m, Monday-Friday, or leave a message and a trained advocate will call you back as soon as possible. An online submission form is available at iowaattorneygeneral.gov.

    To report current or ongoing sex abuse, please call your local law enforcement agency.

    Survivors of all types of crime can get free and confidential support and referral information 24/7 by contacting the Iowa Victim Service Call Center at 1-800-770-1650 or texting “IOWAHELP” to 20121. The Call Center can provide information to services available in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

    A Spanish version of this press release is available at iowaattorneygeneral.gov.

  • Top image: Photo by James Steakley of St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, via Wikimedia Commons.

    You need to signin or signup to post a comment.