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Nebraska Catholic diocese rocked by old abuse allegations

The Diocese of Lincoln is housed at the Catholic Chancery in Lincoln.

The Lincoln Diocese went public Tuesday, releasing the names of nine former priests —  three of them now dead — facing substantiated allegations they sexually abused minors.

The diocese also released a sweeping set of policies to try to prevent future abuse, and announced a separate investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by Monsignor Leonard Kalin, who died in 2008.

The list was compiled by a four-person task force convened in October by Bishop James Conley to conduct an outside review of past abuse allegations against clergy, how the diocese handled them, and its efforts to protect children.

"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,” Conley said in a statement on the diocese’s website.

Together, the nine former priests served more than 100 churches and schools; five, for example, were once assigned to Pius X High School in Lincoln. The list includes priests already criminally convicted — and those never charged.

The living priests are:

* James Benton, ordained in 1972, placed on leave and retired in 2017; faculties revoked and public ministry restricted as of 2018 (meaning he may only celebrate mass in private, and may not publicly represent himself as a priest). Served at: Sacred Heart (Lincoln); St. Michael (Hastings); St. Mary (Dawson); St. Ann (Shubert); Sacred Heart High School (Falls City); St. Joseph (Paul); St. Clara (Peru); Lourdes High School (Nebraska City); Diocesan Director of Scouting; Immaculate Conception (Rulo); St. Mary (Arago); Sts. Peter and Paul Elementary School (Falls City); Diocesan Mission (Venezuela); St. Vincent de Paul (Seward); St. Gregory the Great Seminary (Seward); St. John the Apostle (Lincoln); Our Lady of Good Counsel Retreat House; St. Mary (Wallace); Resurrection (Elsie); St. Joseph (Harvard); St. John the Baptist (Minden); Holy Family (Heartwell).

* John Copenhaver, ordained in 1988, retired in 2012; faculties revoked and public ministry restricted as of 2012. Served at: St. John (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); St. Michael (Fairbury); St. Mary (Alexandria); Sacred Heart (Shelby); Aquinas High School (David City); Saint Joseph (Superior); Sacred Heart (Nelson); St. Wenceslaus (Wahoo); St. Cecilia (Hastings); St. Patrick (McCook), Sacred Heart (McCook); St. Ann (Hayes Center); St. Catherine (Indianola); Nursing Homes & Prison Ministry (Lincoln).

* Richard Deonise, ordained in 1983, excommunicated in 1994. Served at: St. Wenceslaus (Wahoo); Blessed Sacrament (Lincoln); St. Patrick (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); St. Michael (Hastings); St. Joseph (Benkelman); St. Joseph (Stratton); St. John (Prague); Saints Cyril & Methodius (Plasi); Neumann High School (Wahoo); St. Wenceslaus (Wilber); St. Joseph (Tobias).

Robert Hrdlicka, ordained 1977, removed from public ministry and criminally charged in 1993; laicized in 2005; current status unknown. Served at: Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln), St. Mary (David City); St. Anthony (Steinauer); Sacred Heart (Burchard); St. Andrew’s School (Tecumseh); Chaplain in the U.S. Navy.

Paul Margand, ordained in 1985, removed from public ministry and criminally charged in 1987; laicized in 2004; current status unknown. Served at: St. Teresa (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); Holy Spirit (Plattsmouth).

Sean Redmond, ordained in 1990, removed from public ministry in 2009; laicized in 2010; current status unknown. Served at: St. Mary (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln); St. Wenceslaus (Wahoo); Neumann High School (Wahoo); St. Joseph (Nebraska City, Paul); St. Bernard (Julian); Lourdes Schools (Nebraska City); St. Joseph (Benkelman); St. Joseph (Stratton).

And the dead priests:

* Clarence Crowley, ordained in 1937, died in 1986. Served at: St. Joseph (Beatrice); St. Cecilia (Hastings); Sacred Heart (Hebron); Holy Family (Lincoln); Cathedral of the Risen Christ (Lincoln); St. Michael (Cheney).

* Jerome Murray, ordained in 1949, retired in 1999; faculties revoked and public ministry restricted in 2002-05; died in 2016. Served at: St. Joseph (Beatrice); St. Elizabeth’s Hospital; St. Michael (Fairbury); St. Joseph (Paul); Veterans Hospital; Pius X High School (Lincoln); St. Mary (Davey); St. John (Cambridge); St. Joseph (York); St. Joseph (Paul); St. Clara (Peru); St. Bernard (Julian); Lourdes High School (Nebraska City); St. Patrick (Imperial); St. John (Wauneta); St. James (Curtis); St. Joseph (Farnam).

* Aloysius Piorkowski, ordained in 1935, left Diocese of Lincoln in 1959; died in 1978. Served at: St. Mary (Gdynia, Poland); Military Batory Vessel of the Gdynia - America Lines; Hospital (Park Ridge, Illinois); St. Pancratius (Chicago); St. Wenceslaus (Wilber); St. James (Cortland); Lincoln Air Force Base; Boys Town (Omaha); Diocese of Rockford.

Not a final list

The list could grow, Conley said in his statement.

“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.”

The diocese released the list in part to find — and help — victims it might not know about, said Father Nicholas Kipper, a diocese spokesman. They might come forward if they see the priest’s name, and his history of assignments.

“We want any victim to receive the care and healing they need,” Kipper said. “That’s one of the reasons we, like other dioceses across the country, are publishing these lists. So the victims can heal.”

Roughly two-thirds of dioceses in the U.S. have released similar lists, Kipper said. In late November, the Omaha Archdiocese named nearly 40 clergy members with substantiated claims leveled against them.

Lincoln’s list could also get longer if an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general’s office yields new information or allegations.

Under investigation

Also Tuesday, the diocese named three priests either on administrative leave or under investigation for misconduct with minors or young adults:

* Thomas Dunavan, ordained in 1988, accused of sexual misconduct/grooming, placed on administrative leave in 2019; disposition pending. Served at: St. Mary (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); St. Thomas Aquinas (Lincoln); St. Wenceslaus (Wahoo); Neumann Junior-Senior High School (Wahoo); Immaculate Conception (Rulo); St. Mary (Arago); St. Andrew (Tecumseh); St. Mary (St. Mary); Saints Peter and Paul (Falls City); Sacred Heart School (Falls City).

* Charles Townsend, ordained in 1991, accused of misconduct/grooming, including procuring alcohol for a minor, placed on administrative leave in 2018; pleaded no contest to criminal charges in March 2019; disposition pending. Served at: St. Cecilia (Hastings); St. Joseph (Lincoln); Saints Peter and Paul (Falls City); St. Michael (Hastings); St. Cecilia Middle-High School (Hastings); St. Joseph (Lincoln); Pius X High School (Lincoln); St. James (Mead); Neumann Junior-Senior High School (Wahoo); St. Wenceslaus School (Wahoo); St. Peter (Lincoln).

* Leonard Kalin, ordained in 1956, accused of sexual misconduct/grooming; died in 2008, investigation launched March 2019. Served at: St. Cecilia (Hastings); Blessed Sacrament (Lincoln); St. Mary (Davey); Neumann High School (Wahoo); Lincoln Job Corps Center; Diocesan Director of Vocations; St. Thomas Aquinas (Lincoln); Newman Center (Lincoln).

Allegations against Kalin — the longtime pastor at the Newman Center on the UNL campus — surfaced in August, accusing him of sexual misconduct with seminary students and others. Conley announced an investigation into those allegations Tuesday.

“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,” he said in his statement.

New policies

The bishop also announced new so-called Safe Environment Policies, which the diocese started revising in 2017 but were built on by the task force.

The new and updated policies expand requirements of the diocese and formally codify others, Kipper said.

Chief among them: Anyone working for or within the church must report reasonable suspicion of child abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours. The diocese will enforce this as a zero-tolerance policy, Conley said in his statement.

“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,” he said.

The new policies enshrine the need for transparency with parishes and other church communities directly affected by allegations of sexual abuse. The policies direct the bishop, victim’s assistance coordinator or another church official to communicate information about abuse allegations to the affected community.

The policies also provide guidelines for safe interactions between lay adults and clergy and children, requiring abuse prevention training and background check requirements for all clergy, those in religious orders, diocesan staff, school staff, school volunteers, people in youth ministry, and some mass participants such as lectors and extraordinary ministers.

The training and background requirements under the new policies were broadened “so people know, if you’re going to volunteer in the church, it’s just what you do,” Kipper said.

The new policies take effect June 1.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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