By RENEE WEBB
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by U.S. bishops at their June 2002 meeting in Dallas required each diocese to have mechanisms in place to respond promptly and in a pastoral way to credible allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy.
According to a Globe article from Dec. 12, 2002, while the Diocese of Sioux City had a review board in place since 1992 to assist the bishop in assessing allegations of abuse, in accordance with the Dallas Charter, the review board was renewed in late 2002. Most of its members were then made up of laity, as opposed to mainly clergy.
One of the members of the board that was renewed under Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, who was then bishop of Sioux City, was Deacon Mark Prosser, public safety director and chief of police in Storm Lake. At that time, Prosser was a layman and was asked to serve on the board due to his experience in law enforcement.
“The board is advisory in nature to the bishop,” noted Prosser. “As complaints or concerns or allegations come forward against a priest, deacon or other diocesan staff, as it applies to child sexual abuse, then we review the material as it is submitted and based on the board’s individual expertise, give advice to the bishop on potential decisions and directions he should take.”
Prosser spoke of the diversity of the board, noting it’s about 50-50 male and female. Also, there is a wide range of professional backgrounds in its membership.
“One of the things I appreciate about both Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop (Walker) Nickless is the diversity in the appointments to the board in their backgrounds and how important it is that it pertains to these types of allegations,” said Prosser. “We have counselors and therapists, nurses with backgrounds in dealing with victims of sexual abuse, the judicial system is represented and law enforcement experienced in investigating these types of cases and working with victims.”
The review board member stressed the fact that Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Nickless did their homework in surrounding themselves with professionals who have dealt with this issue directly in their own fields.
“It brings a lot of credence to our review board,” said Prosser.
Having a board with lay professionals, he noted, “brings a different set of eyes and life experiences to the issues and to the allegations. It provides for a group of individuals who work in the field to give direction to bishops who may otherwise be naïve in how to handle these types of situations.”
The police chief said one of the things about the review board that has always impressed him is that the bishop has surrounded himself with people who are not afraid to speak their minds.
“We are always focused on the victim or victims,” Prosser said. “We very much want to do the right thing for them. We very much want to ensure due-process and justice for the victims and for the alleged perpetrators as the umbrella of church law falls over them – make sure that is all done correctly, too.”
Prosser acknowledged that in some cases, there are different opinions based on professional disciplines and professional experience. However, the review board member said, they have been able to come to a consensus and offer good advice to the bishop.
“The review board wears several hats. It is an advocate for the victim, helps guide the bishop in making good, sound decisions when allegations come forward and we also continually beat the drum of doing the right thing,” Prosser said. “Most certainly, if there is a new allegation, notifying the civil authority and making sure all of that is done well, consistently and appropriately so that we have credibility to the process.”
While victims have the right to contact their parish priest or the chancery directly, Prosser said in every case, they will do their best to direct them to call Angie Mack, the victim assistance coordinator, at (866) 435-4397 or (712) 279-5610.
This victim’s advocate, Prosser noted, is professionally trained to interview victims and is sensitive to the many challenges and emotions victims go through.
“It doesn’t matter if the action allegedly happened just now, 10 years ago or 50 years ago, this review committee and this bishop want to know about it and wants to do the best we can to assist those victims to bring them closure and peace to their lives,” he said.
“Everyone around that table is focused on that,” Prosser insisted.
Members include: Bishop Walker Nickless, Father Brad Pelzel, Deacon Mark Prosser, Judge John Ackerman, Deacon Tom Henrich, Ph.D.; Verna Welte, R.N.; Martha Burchard, R.N.; Amy Bloch, L.I.S.W.; Mary Hanno, M.S.W., L.I.S.W. and Joe Frisbie (Michael Ellwanger, legal advisor and Dan Ellis, coordinator of the Office of Safe Environment)