WATERLOO | A former Dubuque man has come forward with abuse claims against a former Iowa Catholic priest who served parishes in Northeast Iowa.
Jeff Buchheit said he decided to go public with the allegations against Rev. Leo Riley to raise awareness of child sexual abuse.
“A child victim’s voice is so soft and far too easy to go unnoticed. Kids need to be protected and given the tools to protect themselves,” Buchheit said.
“The fear of revealing that I had been sexual abused and being dismissed or victimized again was paralyzing. It has haunted every aspect of my life,” he said. “I will no longer allow that fear to define me; that starts with me saying publicly that it did happen.”
Buchheit said he was a fourth-grade altar boy at Resurrection School in Dubuque in October 1985 when the abuse began. He said it occurred before school while serving a morning mass with Riley.
“Like many survivors, I felt ashamed. I feared showing any sign that I had been a victim would make me an easy target for other predators. I want others to know that there is hope for calm and happiness,” said Buchheit, who is now 39 and lives outside Iowa.
On Tuesday, Buchheit was at the Waterloo office of Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman, a firm that is representing him in claims against the church. He is also represented by attorney Jason P. Amala of Pfau, Cochran, Vertetis, Amala PLLC in Seattle, Wash.
Buchheit said coming forward is the first step toward putting the fear and shame behind him and leading a normal life.
“Everybody deals with the shame and the fear differently. It really has affected many, many things in my life, and that’s the reason why I’m coming forward. Coming forward starts the healing process, and it’s the first step in living a calm and happy life. And it’s difficult to do as a survivor and staying in silence,” Buchheit said.
Riley was ordained in 1982 and was assigned to Catholic parishes within the Archdiocese of Dubuque before he relocated to the Diocese of Venice in Florida in 2002.
According to the website BishopAccountability.Org, Riley was assigned to St. Joseph in Cresco, Holy Cross in Schley and Resurrection in the 1980s and Immaculate Conception in Charles City, St. Mary in Roseville, Sacred Heart in Woden, St. Peter in Clermont, St. Bridget in Postville and Holy Name in Rockford, Sacred Heart in Rockwell as well as others Iowa parishes in the 1990s.
The investigation into Riley is ongoing, according to the law firm, and Buchheit encouraged other victims to find support. He called the church’s new method of addressing abuse a step in the right direction, but he suggested abuse survivors talk with counselors, therapists, family members or organizations like SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Church officials were notified about the allegations against Riley in December 2014, according to a letter from Archbishop Michael Jackels published in church newsletters. Riley was placed on temporary leave from the ministry, and letters were placed in bulletins for parishes where Riley served seeking information on abuse allegations.
In February, an Archdiocesan Review Board established Riley and the victim were at Resurrection Parish at the time in question, and the investigation continued, according to the letter.