LINCOLN – The Diocese of Lincoln announced three new actions April 2 in its continuing effort to address childhood sexual abuse.
The actions include the adoption of comprehensive new safe environment policies; a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported; and an investigation into sexual misconduct by deceased priest Monsignor Leonard Kalin.
The actions are based on the recommendations made to Bishop James D. Conley by an independent, volunteer Task Force on Childhood Sexual Abuse. The Task Force recently completed a review of diocesan safe environment procedures, prior allegations of sexual misconduct against clergy in the diocese, and the handling of those allegations by the diocese.
Bishop Conley explained the steps the diocese is taking today and the role of the Task Force: “In October 2018, I convened a task force of lay men and women to conduct an outside review of the diocese’s past and current child protection efforts. While the diocese has come a long way in recent years in how it combats child sexual abuse and responds to allegations, the Task Force made clear to me that there is still work to do. It also made clear that the only way for the diocese to move forward is to publicly acknowledge our past failures. In addition to the steps announced today, I am available to meet personally with any victim if doing so would help with your healing.”
The members of the Task Force are Richard Herink of St. Peter parish in Lincoln, Mari Lane Gewecke of St. Peter parish in Lincoln, William Mickle of St. Joseph parish in Lincoln, and Susan Wilkinson of St. Michael parish in Lincoln.
“I am tremendously grateful to the Task Force and all those who contributed time, energy, knowledge, and experience to this process which has brought us to this point. Today’s announcements are not the end of the process, but a new beginning for the diocese and a renewed commitment to the Faithful that we will be vigilant in our efforts to protect our youth. During this season of Lent, we not only pray for the innocent victims of these heinous acts of abuse, but we devote ourselves again to purification through the work of the Holy Spirit—so that the Church can be healed here in Lincoln and across the world.”
New Safe Environment Policies
The process of revising the diocese’s policies began in Spring 2017 and involved pastors, school administrators, attorneys, former law enforcement officials, mental health practitioners, and other clergy and laypersons. The Task Force built on this work over the past four months and recommended that the diocese adopt new safe environment policies. Bishop Conley accepted this recommendation, stating “our commitment to protecting children cannot be limited to words that are put on a shelf to collect dust, but instead requires constant action and a continuing effort to build a culture of vigilance and zero tolerance.” He added, “The changes we are making today endeavor to do just that.”
The diocese’s new Safe Environment Policies combine several existing independent policies in a single document for clarity and cohesion, establish internal processes and procedures for reporting misconduct that conforms to Nebraska law and the revised Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and incorporate evolving best practices in the field of child abuse prevention. Bishop Conley has promulgated these new policies immediately. They are effective June 1, so that parishes, schools, and diocesan institutions may more efficiently incorporate these policies into practice.
The revised policies make clear that all allegations of childhood sexual abuse—no matter when they are received and regardless of whether the victim is now an adult—will be reported to law enforcement. Bishop Conley explained: “The Task Force was critical of how the diocese historically handled allegations of childhood sexual abuse, including some circumstances in which the diocese failed to report allegations to law enforcement. While I cannot speak to the reasoning of those in past decisions, I can give my assurances that any such failure today—by me or anyone in a diocesan leadership position—would be completely unacceptable. The diocese will enforce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child sexual abuse by its clergy and all allegations of sexual abuse of minors will be reported to law enforcement.”
Additionally, the revised policies address an issue flagged through the diocese’s recent audit by the USCCB. Specifically, in 2016, Bishop Conley resumed participation in the USCCB’s annual audit on implementation of the Charter. A data collection audit takes place yearly, and independent auditors visit dioceses for a more thorough review every three years. In November 2018, the diocese was audited on-site by the USCCB to ensure that its safe environment policies and procedures are in compliance with the Charter. Citing a 2017 example of allegations against Fr. James Benton, the auditors concluded that the diocese must be more transparent in informing parishes and other church communities who are directly affected by an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. While the diocese changed its practices in this regard in August 2018, the revised policies formally adopt this change.
List of Priests with Substantiated Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors
The diocese published the names of nine priests with substantiated allegations of abuse of minors. This list was developed with the assistance of the Task Force based on a review of the diocesan records related to allegations of sexual misconduct. The Task Force specifically recommended that the diocese publish the names of any diocesan clergy with substantiated allegations.
A “substantiated allegation” is an allegation that, after review of available information, appeared more likely true than not in the judgment of the independent Task Force.
Bishop Conley stated that it was important for victims to see these names made public and that the diocese and community at large acknowledge the pain caused by these priests, “To begin, for those innocent victims that have experienced this very dark chapter in our Church and in our diocese, I apologize on behalf of the diocese. I am releasing these names today with the hope that you can finally begin or deepen the process of healing.
“Another reason for publishing the priests’ names and parishes where they served,” he continued, “is that there may be victims who have not yet come forward. They may now be ready to report to law enforcement and to seek victim assistance and healing from the diocese.”
This list released April 2 is not intended to be a “final” list due to the ongoing Nebraska Attorney General’s statewide investigation into clergy sexual abuse and the diocese’s continued commitment to transparency.
Bishop Conley explained, “We have placed no time limitation on the names that may be added to this list and we will consider it a living document. The information available to the Task Force and the diocese with respect to historic allegations of abuse is currently limited to what exists in the diocesan records. We acknowledge that there are allegations that, as of today, could not be substantiated by the Task Force—particularly when it comes to priests who served in the diocese decades ago. If we receive new allegations or new information about existing allegations, we will revisit adding names to this list.”
“As I have said in the past, law enforcement is the best way to investigate allegations. They have more resources, the ability to contact witnesses that will not speak to the diocese, and the ability to prosecute. We continue to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation and, if that investigation yields more allegations or information about existing allegations, we will add names to the list if warranted. As part of that cooperation, we have also requested that the Attorney General’s office share with the diocese any new information or allegations it learns about, provided a victim consents to that sharing of information. This is important because in those cases where no criminal charges are filed due to the high burden of proof in a criminal case or the expiration of the statute of limitations, the diocese can still act. Additional information will allow us to better evaluate whether additional action or publication on this list is appropriate within the diocese.”
In addition to the list of priests with substantiated allegations, the diocese has included a list of priests currently placed on administrative leave or under investigation by the diocese for allegations of sexual misconduct or alleged grooming conduct that may involve minors or young adults. Their names will remain on this list pending final disposition of those allegations.
Investigation of Sexual Misconduct by Monsignor Leonard Kalin (Deceased)
Last August, public allegations were made that Monsignor Leonard Kalin engaged in sexual misconduct and emotional and physical boundary violations with young adults while serving as the diocese’s vocations director and as pastor of the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. Although Monsignor Kalin died in 2008, he was a prominent figure in the diocese over the course of his life and at the Newman Center for nearly 30 years.
Based on the recommendation of the Task Force, Bishop Conley explained why he initiated this investigation: “We do not know what this investigation will yield, but the alleged conduct constitutes a serious breach of trust and power. Given Monsignor Kalin’s prominence within the diocese during his life, it is important for the diocese to understand the scope of his conduct and the impact that may have had on many here in Lincoln, including priests and lay leaders within the Church. If there are people that are silently hurting from his actions that we can help, we will.”
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To report an allegation of sexual abuse by any person in any way affiliated with the Diocese of Lincoln, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline: (800) 652-1999.
It is the policy of the Diocese of Lincoln (including its parishes, schools, clergy and lay employees and volunteers) to report any reasonable allegation of abuse or neglect, including sexual abuse, of a person who is a minor to law enforcement in accord with Nebraska law.
Reports of other misconduct may be made to the anonymous hotline: (844) 527-0596 or lincolndiocese.ethicspoint.com.