Archdiocese of Dubuque announces settlement with alleged victims - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Archdiocese of Dubuque announces settlement with alleged priest abuse victims

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

In a release Wednesday morning, the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced it is paying a total of $5.2 million to a group of 26 people who claim they were abused as minors by priests in the archdiocese.

The alleged abuses took place more than 35 years ago, most of which occurred in the 1950s and 60s.

Victims named a combined total of 10 priests.

The Archdiocese of Dubuque keeps a list on its website of priests publicly accused of abuse. Nine of the 10 priests accused of abuse in this particular settlement were already on that list, which can be found here.

According to the archdiocese, "priests accused of sexual abuse of minors and named in this mediation are the following: the Reverends John T. Reed (deceased 1996), Joseph Patnode (deceased 1977), Patrick McElliott (deceased 1987), William Schwartz (removed from the priesthood in 2005), Louis Wunder (deceased 1990), Louis Wendling (deceased 1969), Peter Graff (deceased 1976), Robert Reiss (removed from the priesthood in 1997, deceased 2005), Allen Schmitt (removed from ministry 2002), and Robert Swift (deceased 1980). More than one victim made claims against McElliott, Patnode, Schwartz, Reed, Reiss, Wunder, and Wendling."

Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, P.L.C. in Waterloo is the law firm that handled the case for the victims, collectively. In a release from the firm, lawyer Chad Swanson said the terms were reached through a combination of private mediation and negotiation.

Swanson said the claims of abuse ranged from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Of the 26 survivors in this settlement, he said, 22 are men and four are women.

"The funds were divided equitably between the survivor's group in accordance with the nature and extent of the abuse each suffered and their resulting injuries," Swanson said in the release.

"In addition to financial compensation," Swanson continued, "each survivor received a personal letter of apology from Archbishop Jerome Hanus before his retirement earlier this year. Each survivor was also provided with an opportunity to meet with the Archbishop privately. Each survivor and their spouse was also allowed, at the expense of the Archdiocese, the opportunity to continue or start counseling with a counselor of their own choosing for up to 12 counseling sessions."

The Archdiocese of Dubuque says those efforts that go beyond monetary compensation are something "it has been doing for years, to raise awareness of the effects of sexual abuse of minors and to invite victims to come forward and seek help."

Those efforts also include publishing information in the archdiocesan newspaper The Witness and other community newspapers, inviting those sexually abused by priests as minors to come forward and contact law enforcement personnel about their abuse. The archdiocese also allows victims "whose claims were found credible" to speak at their home parish or the parish in which they were abused, if they desire.

Victim advocate groups such as SNAP - the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - say no matter how much time has passed and money is paid, however, the pain remains for so many.

Steve Theisen is director of the Iowa chapter of SNAP and is, himself, a victim of clergy abuse.

"The church is doing the bare minimum," he said of the settlement. "Some people will say, 'These victims are only out for the money. It was 30, 40, 50 years ago. Why bring it up now?' Well, I can tell you, it's still bothersome."

He said he applauds the each of the survivors of clergy abuse.

Rev. Michael Jackels is archbishop of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. He said while sexual abuse by clergy members may have gone unreported or ignored in past decades, there is now a zero-tolerance policy.

"It has become language in the church that, you know, it's strike one, not strike three," Jackels said. "If somebody is capable of doing something like that, they have no place in the priesthood

He said he understands words alone cannot heal a person who suffered abuse, but he offered his apologies repeatedly.

"I'm sorry not only that they were abused in this manner," Jackels said, "I'm sorry that either they felt like they couldn't come forward and receive help or protection and even moreseo if they came forward and no help or protection was provided."

He said more safeguards are now in place to curb abuse before it even happens. For example, he said, all the archdiocese's employees and volunteers undergo required training.

"Here's how you recognize grooming or abuse taking place and here's what you do if you witness it or you're a victim of it," Jackels said.

"Priests who abused are a disgrace to the vocation and a scandal to the faithful," the Archdiocese of Dubuque said in its release. "The vast majority of priests are good and holy servants of God and God's people. They give of their energy and time most generously. They abhor sexual abuse and work hard to ensure that the parishes, schools, and other institutions of the Archdiocese are safe. The priests want to help victims experience reconciliation, healing, and justice."

Swanson, however, acknowledged that while the settlement is significant and the sum of money appears large, "on a per person basis, it will never be sufficient to compensate these claimants for all of the years of living with the shame, embarrassment, and stigma of the abuse. The injuries to this group of survivors cannot be overstated. It has been significant to each and every survivor in his or her own way. The settlement does offer the opportunity for each survivor to continue or start their personal healing process."

Jackels said he hopes people see the good that can come from the church, too.

"I would hope that people wouldn't judge all priests and the priesthood in general and the Catholic church...on the behavior of a terrible few, but a few," Jackels said.

Swanson said this settlement follows three other large-group global settlements of sexual abuse claims by the Archdiocese of Dubuque. There were 20 claims in Feb. 2006, he said, nine claims in March 2007 and 18 claims in April 2008.

Swanson's firm has settled 10 additional claims of sexual abuse involving Archdiocese of Dubuque priests on an individual, case-by-case basis between 2008 and 2013.

"All told, through the efforts of this law firm, at least 83 claims of clergy sexual abuse have been resolved with the Archdiocese of Dubuque between 2006 and 2013," Swanson wrote.

"Archbishop Michael Jackels and Archbishop Emeritus Jerome Hanus apologize to the victims and their families," the release from the Archdiocese of Dubuque states. "It is their hope that this settlement will be supportive of them. They assure all the victims of their prayers for them and their families. They express their commitment to support them in their efforts to achieve spiritual and emotional well-being."

The Archdiocese of Dubuque covers 30 eastern Iowa counties, including Dubuque, Black Hawk and Linn counties. It serves the area's more than 200,000 Catholics.

Of the 10 priests named in this settlement, according to Swanson, they received the following number of accusations among the 26 claimants:

John T. Reed: 2 claims

Joseph I. Patnode: 3 claims

Patrick W. McElliott: 3 claims

Robert V. Swift: 1 claim

William T. Schwartz: 1 claim

Robert J. Reiss: 10 claims

Allen M. Schmitt: 1 claim

Louis W. Wunder: 2 claims

Louis E. Wendling: 2 claims

Peter Graff: 1 claim

Swanson said the archdiocese has agreed to maintain the online table of accused priests for public viewing through at least July 1, 2017. Again, that table is here.

To read the full release from the Archdiocese of Dubuque, click HERE.

To read the full release from the law firm, click HERE.

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