WATERLOO. Iowa --- The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque has paid $5.2 million to 26 victims of clergy sex abuse --- the fourth such settlement in nine years and the first since 2008.
The out-of-court settlement was announced today by Waterloo attorney Chad Swanson of the Dutton law firm and confirmed by the archdiocese. It involves 10 priests in incidents alleged to have occurred from the late 1940s through the 1970s
None of the accused clergy currently work as priests, and most are dead. Archdiocesan officials have said the number of new claims has tapered off significantly in recent years.
Swanson worked through the archdiocese over several years to settle the claims without having to file lawsuits for 22 males and four females --- unlike previous settlements which did involve litigation.
"We've been working on this project for nearly 10 years, and we've been able to foster a lot of healing for a lot of folks," Swanson said. "I think it's been a long time coming, particularly with this latest group."
"Archbishop Michael Jackels and Archbishop Emeritus Jerome Hanus apologize to the victims and their families," archdiocesan officials said in a statement. "It is their hope that this settlement will be supportive of them. ... Priests who abused are a disgrace to the vocation and a scandal to the faithful. The vast majority of priests are good and holy servants of God and God's people."
Swanson declined to discuss specific claims out of respect for the confidentiality of the victims. The money was divided "in accordance with the nature and the extent of the abuse each suffered and their resulting injuries," he said.
Survivors also received a personal letter of apology from Hanus prior to his retirement earlier this year and were offered an opportunity to meet with him privately. Each survivor and spouse also was allowed up to 12 counseling sessions at archdiocesan expense.
"The injuries to this group of survivors cannot be overstated" in terms of "the shame, embarrassment and stigma of the abuse," Swanson said in a statement.
In all, the archdiocese has now paid out more than $17.5 million on 83 claims of clergy sex abuse involving clients represented by the Dutton law firm, which has handled the bulk of claims within the Dubuque archdiocese, which covers the northeastern quadrant of Iowa.
That includes the current settlement and three others from 2006-08 totaling $12.3 million. In addition, Swanson said 10 additional claims were settled on a case-by-case basis for undisclosed amounts since 2008.
The settlements "certainly had a serious effect on archdiocesan finances, but with the extended time frame it was manageable," said Sister Carol Hoverman, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
Many of the incidents involved previously accused priests. One priest not previously named with local ties is the Rev. Louis W. Wunder. Ordained in 1961, he served as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Waterloo from 1969-75 and on faculty at Columbus High School from 1974 through 1975.
Wunder also served at parishes in New Hampton and Garwin. He died in an automobile accident in 1990. The current settlement included two claims against Wunder in the 1960s involving boys. Wunder served in Clear Lake and Dubuque prior to coming to Waterloo in 1969.
The settlement also includes additional claims against the following previously accused priests with local ties:
One claim against Allen M. Schmitt, who also served as an associate at Sacred Heart in Waterloo from 1971-77, where one previously settled claim allegedly occurred. His activities were restricted in 2002 and disciplinary measures and penalties against him were confirmed by the Vatican in 2009. He is still employed by the archdiocese, but not in a priestly capacity, archdiocesan officials said. The alleged incidents involved male minors.
One additional claim against William T. Schwartz, who served at St. Joseph's Church in Waterloo from 1963-67, Don Bosco High School in Gilbertville in 1967-78 and Columbus from 1974-80. He was named in previously settled suits involving incidents with male minors at St. Joseph's parish school and Columbus. He retired in 1993 and was defrocked by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
Three additional claims against Patrick W. McElliott, who was pastor of St. John's Church in Waterloo from 1954 to 1963, and named in previously settled litigation involving incidents with female minors there. He retired in 1975 and died in 1987.
Ten additional claims against Robert J. Reiss, ordained in 1955, who served at St. Nicholas Church in Evansdale from 1967-71, was defrocked by Pope John Paul II in 1997 and died in Mexico in 2005. One previously settled claim against him involved an allegation in the 1960s in Luxemburg in Dubuque County. The claims against him involved incidents with male minors.
Swanson said he currently is working on no additional abuse claims involving the archdiocese.
"I'm not sure if it truly represents the end" of abuse claims, he said. "We probably won't know for several years. There's been a considerable decline in the number of cases coming to our attention more recently, so I do suspect we're reaching some sort of point where the story is closing."
Archdiocesan officials have "reached out in a generally positive fashion when the claims have been presented," Swanson said.
Steve Theisen of Hudson, Iowa director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said, "I applaud each of these brave survivors. Like a small minority of those who have suffered clergy sex crimes and coverups, they have found the strength to come forward, expose predators and seek justice. All Iowa citizens and Catholics owe them a debt of gratitude."
However, he believes they are a small minority of the total number of victims, and urged all victims or witnesses of child sex abuse by any individual to come forward.
The archdiocese years ago instituted mandatory sex abuse prevention training for its employees. While Theisen said he and SNAP remain "very skeptical" of those measures, Swanson said, "hopefully, they've made the parishes safer for their children."