Dozens of clergy named in Omaha abuse report; Lincoln Diocese waiting for task force review

December 3, 2018 GMT

The Catholic Diocese of Lincoln isn’t ready to identify priests or personnel accused of sexual abuse and misconduct with minors, it said Friday — the same day the Omaha Archdiocese named nearly 40 clergy members with substantiated claims leveled against them.

But in a statement, Lincoln Bishop James Conley said his diocese has fully cooperated with the attorney general’s office, which in late August asked the state’s three bishops to provide internal investigative records of abuse allegations since 1978.

Conley also said he was waiting for an independent task force — announced by the diocese in early November — to finish its own review of past sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, and how the diocese handled them.

“It would be premature to publish any information regarding clergy and diocesan personnel while the independent task force is in the midst of its review,” he said.

The task force’s final report, due by Jan. 31, will include recommendations about what information Conley should release to the public, diocese spokesman Rev. Nicholas Kipper said Friday.

The Omaha Archdiocese turned over its files to the attorney general’s office and posted a summary of its findings to its website Friday.

The archdiocese identified 38 clergy members — most of them priests — with substantiated allegations against them, meaning the archdiocese found enough evidence to believe the accusations to be true. Some cases date back 60 years but were reported after 1978. Some of the clergy were visiting from other dioceses, some have since died, and none remain with the archdiocese.

The archdiocese said 34 of the 38 clergy members were accused of abusing minors before 2002, when the U.S. Conference of Bishops required dioceses to take steps to protect children.

The priests were assigned to dozens of parishes in Nebraska and other states, though none appeared to have served in the Lincoln area.

In a video attached to the report, Omaha Archbishop George Lucas apologized to the abuse victims, and said he prayed they will experience the healing “the Lord desires for you.”

“We cannot change the sins and the betrayal of the past,” he said. “But we acknowledge these ugly truths of the past so that we can repent and so that we can be resolute in our determination that these things will not be repeated.”

The Omaha archdiocese is committed to a zero tolerance policy, Lucas said, and will create a more formal code of conduct for clergy and personnel.

Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon, whose office is working with the attorney general, confirmed the Lincoln Diocese was cooperating. But he couldn’t say how many reports investigators had received, and he wouldn’t say whether his office had determined that any are able to be prosecuted.

The attorney general’s request came after a tumultuous late summer for the Lincoln Diocese, which removed four priests for misconduct, though none of those cases involved allegations of child sexual abuse.

The diocese did confirm sexual abuse allegations against Rev. James Benton by two men who say he tried to molest them decades ago, when they were minors. It restricted the retired priest from exercising public ministry and prohibited him from being alone with minors.

It also acknowledged allegations of sexual behavior with seminarians by the late Monsignor Leonard Kalin during his time at the Newman Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

Since August, Conley rearranged his administrative staff, hired a victim-assistance coordinator, launched an anonymous tip line and encouraged church members to report past and present cases of abuse.

Most recently, he announced a four-person task force charged with investigating past allegations of sexual abuse of minors and nonconsensual contact with adults, and the diocese’s response to those cases.

Conley gave the task force authority to learn about each alleged victim and accused priest, to review diocese files and to collect more information from diocese employees, he wrote early last month.

“Most importantly, the task force will exercise that discretion freely and independent from me and my senior staff.”