By KATIE BORKOWSKI
FORT DODGE – Bishop Walker Nickless recognized the bravery and expressed his gratitude to the victims of clergy sexual misconduct, who were among the attendees of the third of three listening sessions held in the Diocese of Sioux City.
“I want to thank you for your courage to come and be with us tonight,” he said. “I also want to express thanks to all those whose families have been hurt in one way or another for being here. Over these last few months, I have felt the prayerful support of so many of you. I know you are praying for me and my brother bishops that we do the right thing.”
This session was held on Oct. 30 at Holy Trinity Parish, Corpus Christi Church, Fort Dodge. Previous meetings were held Oct. 3 at St. John Paul II Parish, Holy Spirit Church, Carroll and Oct. 29 at Holy Cross Parish, St. Michael Church, Sioux City.
Amy Bloch, executive director of Catholic Charities and Father Brad Pelzel, vicar general, joined Bishop Nickless for each of the meetings. Bloch spoke about the Diocesan Review Board. Father Pelzel presented the history of clergy sexual misconduct and the changes in society and culture.
Bishop Nickless posed the question, “Why are we here tonight?”
“We hear the name of Pope Francis, the cardinals and the bishops being held accountable for the abuse that has happened,” he said. “Many of you have heard about the charter for the protection of young people and children that the bishops designed and put into place in 2002. We have heard comments about homosexuality in the priesthood. We have heard comments about our seminaries and our seminarians.”
Bishop Nickless said many times during the gathering: “I’m sorry for what happened. I apologize for the miscalculations or whatever it was for my fellow bishops. As a priest, I am so sorry for those men who let you down, who broke their solemn vows to be representatives of Christ in our midst. I’m sorry.”
A female attendee asked what is done with the priests who are accused.
“If there is a legitimate accusation, a credible accusation of a priest abusing a minor, he is removed from the priesthood,” said Bishop Nickless. “He doesn’t have faculties to function as a priest. Some of them are laicized. Others are given a life of prayer and penance. They cannot function in any way as a priest publicly. Some of them go to jail. We have priests who are in jail and in prison.”
Another woman brought up a letter online addressed to Father Pelzel from a man in Albuquerque, N.M., who had taken a man (a former priest) into his household.
“It was Father Brad who advised not to keep this man in his household,” said the woman. “Apparently, the priest was repentive and admitted his wrong doing to your (the bishop’s) predecessor. This was ongoing abuse for a period of around 20 years with around 50 young boys from seventh grade to 10th grade.”
“We do know who the priest is you are talking about,” said Bishop Nickless. “He did self-admit to Bishop (Lawrence) Soens that he abused several boys. We are not sure of the number. He said, ‘I need to leave the priesthood.’ He was sent to the Paracletes, a facility in New Mexico that handles sexual misconduct and alcoholism in priests. He ended up going through the program and was released. He decided to stay there.”
Bishop Nickless continued, that Bishop Soens said, “‘You are never going to function as a priest again.’ He got a job. He is 85 years old. A couple of months ago, he was in an automobile accident and his car was totaled.”
“He had befriended the person who wrote the letter,” said Bishop Nickless. “[The letter writer] said, ‘Come stay with us. We know your story.’ We said, ‘No, don’t stay there.’ We tried to get him out of there. He’s back (in the diocese) and we are trying to find the best place for him.”
Bishop Nickless closed the event with a “recognition that we have been talking about a lot of my brothers in the priesthood and the episcopacy who are bad.
“What are some of the things we need to do for those who are not?” he asked. “That’s why there are 12 things Catholics can do that will really help us at this time in the crisis in the church.”
The bishop offered these strategies:
- Support good priests and bishops.
- Criticize unfaithful shepherds.
- Support worthy Catholic causes.
- Learn your Catholic faith in its fullness.
- Promote the fullness of the Catholic faith.
- Nurture strong Catholic boys and men.
- Minister to the needy.
- Don’t worry and don’t be bitter. God is in charge.
- Don’t neglect the liturgy.
- Pray more. Read the Bible every day.
- Pause to enjoy life and the many blessings God has given you.