By Barb Arland-Fye
Since the first one in August, Bishop Martin Amos has presided at 39 atonement services throughout the Diocese of Davenport on behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse.
He has 15 atonement services remaining as part of the non-monetary agreement the diocese reached last year in its bankruptcy settlement with abuse survivors.
The services are being held wherever priests accused of abuse served in the diocese. Assisting Bishop Amos at the services are Victim Assistance Coordinator Alicia Owens and Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director.
Prior to leading the service of prayers and song, Bishop Amos invites questions and comment. As he told those gathered March 29 at St. Thomas More Church in Iowa City, the request for atonement services was something he immediately agreed to do.
During the question and comment period, one woman said priests and parishioners throughout the diocese need to know from the bishop’s office that their voices will be heard. In the past, people were not heard when they reported abuse, she said.
Bishop Amos noted that priests, adult volunteers, diocesan employees and children all are being educated about abuse and how to prevent it from happening.
Another person asked Bishop Amos whether the four bishops of Iowa have discussed the case of retired Bishop Lawrence Soens of Sioux City and originally from the Davenport Diocese. He has been accused of abuse dating back to his time as principal of Regina High School in Iowa City in the 1960s. Bishop Amos said Iowa’s bishops have not discussed Bishop Soens. “That’s out of our hands,” Bishop Amos said.
Someone else asked about the screening process for seminarians. Bishop Amos assured the group the screening process is stringent. “Are lay people involved?” the questioner asked. “Absolutely,” the bishop said.
Asked for his opinion about the root causes of clergy sexual abuse, Bishop Amos said he could only conjecture. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice is studying the issue, he added.
Several people thanked the bishop for apologizing for the abuse that has occurred in the diocese.
Father David Hitch, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Tipton, noted that more than two years ago the diocese was “found guilty of knowing this was going on … we tend to forget that.”
Marti Hendricks of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City said it was good to have the question and answer session ahead of the atonement service. (Another service was held later that day at her parish).
“It gave people the opportunity to express themselves. That makes it personal.” The church should have been doing this all along, she added, because abuse is a very personal thing for people.
“It’s good the bishop is doing that,” said Mike Rocca, an abuse victim and member of St. Mary Parish in Tipton. “I would have to say the people at St. Thomas More, the Concerned Catholics group, have done a lot for the healing process for victims, getting it out in the open.”
His wife, Beryl, added, “It’s been a long time coming.”