Lincoln Diocese publishes list of priests accused of sexually abusing children

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln published a list Tuesday of nine priests accused of sexually abusing children, and three more who are under investigation for alleged misconduct with minors.

The list came from a task force that Lincoln Bishop James Conley appointed last fall. Making the names public is part of the diocese’s “continuing effort to address childhood sexual abuse,” the diocese said in a press release.

The task force formed the list by reviewing files turned over to Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson in response to Peterson’s request last fall, said the Rev. Nicholas Kipper, a spokesman for the diocese. Kipper, while saying the list could grow, said the list published Tuesday included all of the names that the task force had recommended that Conley should publish.

The list includes two widely known, deceased monsignors, the Revs. Clarence Crowley and Leonard Kalin, who had been held in high regard by many in the southern Nebraska diocese.

Kalin, a former diocesan vocations director who died in 2008, is under investigation for “alleged misconduct/grooming,” the diocese said. Crowley, a former rector of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln who died in 1986, faced substantiated allegations of sexually abusing one or more minors, according to the diocese.

Besides Crowley, the diocese listed these eight priests “against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported”:

  • Jerome Murray, who retired in 1999 and died in 2016. His priestly faculties were revoked and he was barred from public ministry in 2002.
  • Aloysius Piorkowski, who left the Lincoln Diocese in 1959 and died in 1978.
  • James Benton, who was placed on leave and retired in 2017. His priestly faculties were revoked, and he was barred from public ministry in 2018.
  • John Copenhaver, who retired in 2012. His faculties were revoked, and he was barred from public ministry as of 2012.
  • Richard Deonise, who was excommunicated in 1994.
  • Robert Hrdlicka, who was court-martialed and sentenced to prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to indecent acts with minors in South Carolina and Italy, and was accused of assaulting four Lincoln brothers in 1978, before he became a chaplain in the U.S. Navy. He was laicized in 2005.
  • Paul Margand, who was removed from public ministry and criminally charged in 1987. He was laicized in 2004.
  • Sean Redmond, who was removed from public ministry in 2009 and laicized in 2010.

The diocese also said two priests had been placed on administrative leave pending disposition of their cases. They are the Rev. Thomas Dunavan, accused of sexual misconduct/grooming, and the Rev. Charles Townsend, accused of misconduct and grooming, and procuring alcohol for a minor. Townsend pleaded no contest to criminal charges in March, the diocese said.

Kipper said he didn’t know which or how many of the older allegations had been reported to law enforcement. But he said all recent ones have under the diocese’s policy that all allegations “go to law enforcement first.” He reiterated Conley’s previous call for people to report any instances of abuse by clergy or other employees from the diocese to law enforcement.

“We say contact your local law enforcement, but in addition you can contact us,” Kipper said.

The diocese also announced Tuesday that it had adopted new, comprehensive safe environment policies.

“We want people to know that our institutions are safe in the Diocese of Lincoln,” Kipper said.

The actions taken Tuesday brought mixed reaction from two victims of priests on the list.

Stan Schulte, a Lincoln chiropractor who said he was abused by Benton in the 1990s, said the diocese may have admitted that some priests had abused children, “but they don’t openly admit the errors of how these cases were handled — errors that needlessly put children in harm’s way.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” Schulte said. If the Lincoln Diocese was interested in “transparency and contrition,” he said, it would not have fought the Nebraska attorney general’s subpoenasfor information.

Jeff Hoover of Lincoln, who said he was groped by Benton during a camping trip in the early 1980s, said the release of new safety steps by the Lincoln Diocese and the list of substantiated allegations should have been done 30 years ago.

“I’m glad the attorney general is holding their feet to the fire. Maybe they’re finally going to do what’s right, something they should have done years ago,” Hoover said.

He said it was “huge” that the diocese is now requiring that all allegations to be sent immediately to law enforcement.

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