Iowa AG asks Catholic bishops for sexual abuse records, creates hotline for victims

Iowa’s attorney general is asking all the Roman Catholic dioceses in the state to turn over their sex abuse records, and he opened a hotline for victims to report abuse directly to his office.

In doing so, Tom Miller joined the attorneys general of numerous states, including Nebraska, who are conducting a variety of inquiries into sex abuse by Catholic clergy and into how bishops have dealt with the reports of abuse and the perpetrators.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced Monday that it had sent the request in letters to all four bishops in the state, asking them to voluntarily hand over a raft of records. The letters noted that the bishops had met with Miller to talk about the issue and acknowledged that the bishops had published lists of clergy who had abused children.

But Miller wrote that clergy sex abuse survivors had “urged his office to investigate and bring attention to the injustice that they and others have suffered.”

“We appreciate the efforts that you have undergone to produce your list of clergy who committed abuse,” Miller wrote to the bishops. “But we believe that in this context, a credible third-party review is warranted and will add to transparency, reconciliation and healing.”

The letter, dated Friday, went to the Dioceses of Des Moines, Sioux City, Davenport and Dubuque. It asked for the records to be turned over by Aug. 1.

The dioceses issued a joint statement Monday saying that they “will comply in the interest of transparency and accountability.” The Iowa Catholic Conference issued the statement on behalf of Bishops Richard Pates of Des Moines, Walter Nickless of Sioux City, Thomas Zikula of Davenport and Michael Jackels of Dubuque.

“In fact, most of the information requested is already a matter of public record,” the bishops said in the statement. “Also, the efforts of each diocese to protect minors from clergy sexual abuse have for many years now been subject to an annual credible third-party review.”

The Diocese of Des Moines, which includes Council Bluffs, issued an additional statement saying it will comply fully and promptly. The statement also says the Iowa dioceses “have gone on record deploring the horrendous crime of sexual abuse and have taken action to address victims and their needs toward healing.”

While saying they will comply, both statements indicate that church officials in Iowa feel that they are being singled out.

“It is our hope that the Attorney General will use the resources of his office to protect minors from the scourge of sexual abuse wherever it occurs, and not limit his focus just on the Catholic Church,” the Iowa Catholic Conference said.

The Diocese of Des Moines statement sounded a similar note.

“We hope that the safety of all children is addressed,” it says. “For their benefit, we expect that the scrutiny applied to the Catholic Church be broadened and applied to organizations that serve children.”

Miller is asking for records including any documentation of abuse reports and a summary of actions taken by the dioceses in each instance. He wants drafts and unpublished lists of all priests, deacons or other clergy against whom accusations had been made, whether the diocese found them credible or not. He’s also seeking copies of all settlement agreements between the dioceses and abuse survivors, including such details as the name of the alleged perpetrator, where the money for the settlement came from and the amount paid.

Next door in Nebraska, Attorney General Doug Peterson requested last fall that the state’s three Roman Catholic bishops voluntarily hand over records. He then ratcheted up his inquiry in February by serving subpoenas on more than 400 Catholic parishes, schools and other institutions across Nebraska.

A spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said Monday that Miller’s request for records and the hotline were prompted by discussions with survivors, including some whose abusers had not previously been made public.

“The hotline is the best way, we think, to reach out to victims that maybe haven’t come forward yet,” said the spokesman, Lynn Hicks, noting that there have been scandals in Iowa that were kept secret for years. “We feel that both of these steps are necessary to ascertain if they have changed.”

The Iowa attorney general’s hotline number is 855-620-7000. Trained advocates will be available to gather information from survivors. Survivors can also fill out a questionnaire at iowaattorneygeneral.govThe identities of survivors will remain confidential, the Attorney General’s Office said.