Tuesday, October 04, 2005

 

Priest abuse suit settled, others still in court


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa --- A case involving a Cedar Rapids man who alleged a Roman Catholic priest with Waterloo ties sexually abused him in 1983 has been settled out of court.

Daniel J. Ortmann of Cedar Rapids told the Courier he reached the out-of-court settlement in his suit against the Rev. William Schwartz "to bring closure" to an ordeal that has strained him emotionally, physically and financially.

Ortmann's suit against Schwartz has been dismissed in Linn County District Court. Ortmann and Robert Day, a Dubuque attorney whose firm is representing Schwartz, confirmed an out-of-court settlement had been reached. Neither Ortmann nor Day would disclose details.

"The settlement was never about money to me, or to my family," Ortmann said. "It was about making people aware" of the problem of clergy sex abuse.

"I am of the mind that everyone has to face St. Peter at some point in time," Ortmann said. "But, by the same token it's my duty to let the public know."

Ortmann filed suit against Schwartz and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque in June 2004, alleging that Schwartz sexually abused him and other children when Ortmann was in eighth grade at St. Jude's Catholic school in Cedar Rapids and Schwartz was a visiting pastor at St Jude's Catholic Church. According to the suit, Schwartz went to Ortmann's home, took him and a friend for a walk and, in a secluded area, "engaged in improper physical and sexual contact" with Ortmann.

The suit also alleges Schwartz physically and verbally intimidated Ortmann from discussing the incident later that summer during a church retreat at Sacred Heart Church in Rockwell, where Schwartz was pastor.

In an answer to the suit, Schwartz "admits that there was, on one occasion, a single act of sexual contact between the defendant and the plaintiff," but denied other allegations.

Ortmann said he's still traumatized. "There's little things that come up that take you back to that scared 13-year-old little boy," he said. "They catch you out in left field when you least expect it.

"The pain is real. It is real," he said. "I've had broken arms, broken legs, and it is as real as something like that. Your body's self-protection (reflex) is to completely cut if off, like it never happened. And it builds a lot of walls. That's its way of protecting yourself from the pain, and the loneliness, the betrayal."

The archdiocese and Ortmann reached a $100,000 out-of-court settlement, according to statements in January by archdiocesan officials and Ortmann's counsel, though Ortmann himself subsequently has said the amount was much less.

"At that time, I thought I was the only one," Ortmann said. "Since then, more have come forward."

After Ortmann's settlement with the archdiocese was made public, three current or former Waterloo residents subsequently filed separate state and federal suits against Schwartz and the archdiocese, all over alleged incidents predating Ortmann's. One plaintiff, Dr. Donald Schmit of Waterloo, alleges Schwartz sexually abused him in the 1960s when Schwartz was at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Waterloo. Two others, former residents Joseph Faucher and Steven Lown, each alleged Schwartz abused them in the late 1970s when he was spiritual director at Columbus High School in Waterloo. Those cases are still pending against both Schwartz and the archdiocese.

Both defendants have denied the allegations pertaining to them in each suit and say the plaintiffs' claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

Former Cedar Falls Police Chief Loras Jaeger, now police chief in Ames, has said he investigated allegations against Schwartz as a detective in the late 1970s, but was unable to bring charges due to some parents' unwillingness to allow their children to testify. Jaeger brought the allegations to the attention of then-Dubuque Archbishop James J. Byrne. Schwartz subsequently was removed from Columbus in 1979 --- four years before the alleged incident involving Ortmann.

For the archdiocese to subsequently place Schwartz in a position where he had contact with young people again is "unthinkable," Ortmann said.

In court documents, the archdiocese has said if the allegations against Schwartz are true, he was acting outside his priestly duties and not as an agent of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. The archdiocese also says the relationship between the archdiocese and its priests is a matter of Catholic canon law and protected from legal examination by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Archdiocesan officials have said Schwartz, who officially retired in 1993 according to records, was removed from priestly duties by former Dubuque Archbishop Daniel Kucera, received treatment at a facility in Arizona, can no longer represent himself in public as a priest and is to reside outside the archdiocese.

In previous correspondence with the Courier, current Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus has said that Byrne's philosophy, and the prevailing wisdom of mental health experts at that time, was that abusers could be treated and cured. "Today, the opinions are quite different," Hanus said. Kucera, in contrast to Byrne, removed priests from service when convinced a priest had committed abuse, and a policy instituted during his tenure resulted in the criminal prosecution and conviction of a Dubuque priest in the mid-1990s.

Hanus also has confirmed he has seven cases of abusive priests pending before the Vatican, which could result in penaties up to and including defrocking of the priests in question.

The archdiocese has appointed victim assistance coordinators to work with victims, receive new complaints of abuse and offer counseling and support. But the archdiocese also faces 19 other outstanding priest-abuse lawsuits.

Ortmann said he recently met with archdiocesan officials. "I've always been optimistic that my church will do what it says they're going to do, which is help the victims and protect society from these priests that are now in retirement," he said. "I'm not trying to bash my church. I just want change within my church."


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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