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Diocese of Des Moines, following Sioux City’s lead, names 9 priests accused of abusing minors

According to the Des Moines Register, The Diocese of Des Moines on Thursday publicly named nine priests it said are credibly accused of sexually abusing minors while serving the diocese.

The Allegation Review Committee, made up of of local clergy, a judge, a lawyer, a police chief and a retired teacher, substantiated allegations of abuse occurring between 1940 and 1997. 

“It’s more than a sin; it’s a compulsion,” Bishop Richard Pates said at a Thursday morning press conference in downtown Des Moines. “It’s a crime.”

Two of the nine names — Paul Connelly and Dennis Mangan — had not been previously tied to abuse of minors by the diocese. Both are deceased. 

In 2003, the diocesan Allegation Review Committee substantiated allegations of abuse of minors against Albert Wilwerding, John Ryan, and former Dowling Catholic High School president Richard Wagner.

Phillip Hobt, a former Des Moines priest and teacher at St. Albert Catholic Schools in Council Bluffs, was removed from the priesthood in 2007. 

The diocese settled claims of abuse, first made public in 1995, against Francis Zuch decades ago. Zuch led Catholic Charities in Des Moines from 1935 to 1955.

In 2015, Pope Francis removed Howard Fitzgerald from the priesthood after an investigation into decades-old abuse by the diocesan review committee. Pates informed Fitzgerald, who worked in central and western Iowa churches for more than three decades, of the Vatican’s decision at the time. Fitzgerald now lives in southeast Iowa, Pates said Thursday.

The list released Thursday names the following:

  • Paul Connelly, died in 2007, subject of one substantiated allegation
  • Dennis Mangan, died in 1976, subject of two substantiated allegations
  • Leonard Kenkel, resides in senior care facility in the diocese, subject of one substantiated allegation
  • Albert Wilwerding, died in 2004, subject of 25 substantiated allegations — about half of all the allegations the review board confirmed
  • John Ryan, died in 2010, subject of six substantiated allegations
  • Richard Wagner, died in 2012, subject of one substantiated allegation
  • Phillip Hobt, died in 2017, subject of one substantiated allegation
  • Howard Fitzgerald, resides outside the diocese in southeast Iowa, subject of two substantiated allegations
  • Francis Zuch, died in 1993, subject of five substantiated allegations

Des Moines list mirrors Sioux City revelations.

The Diocese of Sioux City in February publicly named 28 credibly accused priests.

Like the Sioux City list, which included abuse between 1948 and 1995, the substantiated allegations in the Des Moines list date back more than 20 years — beyond the statute of limitations to prosecute such crimes.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, previously questioned if the Sioux City list was “incomplete or carefully curated,” and called for an independent review by state law enforcement.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller met with each of Iowa’s four bishops in late 2018. Iowa is one of up to 45 states that has sought guidance from Pennsylvania authorities since a bombshell grand jury report there was made public last summer.

Miller does not have the authority, unlike his Pennsylvania counterpart, to launch a statewide investigative grand jury, according to Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for Attorney General Miller.

According to nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman, “these published lists of predator priests will help abuse survivors address their abuse. Sadly, many of our clients assume they were the only one, or they are afraid they will not be believed when they step forward.  The lists will help victims know they are not alone, which is the first step on a long journey of healing,” said Jeff.


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