Posted Online: Oct. 06, 2004, 12:00 am
Abuse victims protest at Davenport diocese
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By Stephen Elliott, firstname.lastname@example.org
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener|
Priest-abuse victim Michael Hitch holds a photograph of himself from the mid-60s during a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Davenport. Lending him moral support, at right, is his brother Rev. David Hitch, a priest with the Davenport Diocese since 1968.
DAVENPORT -- They stood across the street from the federal courthouse in Davenport Wednesday, some victims of sexual abuse by priests, others family and support group members.
The Diocese of Davenport is contemplating bankruptcy in anticipation of large settlements with abuse victims. Protestors Wednesday asked the diocese to hold public meetings with parishioners before seeking court protection.
Rev. David Hitch, a priest of the Davenport Diocese since 1968, came out to support the victims. He carried a picture of his brother, Michael, on his shirt pocket.
The picture of Michael as a boy stood in stark contrast to the Michael Hitch standing near his brother on Thursday. The boy in the picture is smiling, filled with the innocence of youth.
The adult Michael Hitch, standing with other abuse victims at Fourth Avenue and Perry Street, had no smile. For nearly four decades, he has carried the secrets of sexual abuse like a dead weight around his neck.
He carried the secrets while his brother, David, served the diocese as a priest. Today, Michael is in mediation with the diocese.
"He carried this with him for 38 years," Rev. Hitch said of his brother.
"My brother Mike was abused by a priest in the seventh and eighth grade in Fort Madison. A year ago, he had the courage to come forward."
The group of victims and their supporters hand delivered a letter to Bishop William Franklin Wednesday morning. Signed by 23 people of the diocese, including three priests, they asked the bishop to hold a series of meetings with victims, lay people, clergy and parish employees before deciding on bankruptcy.
Michael Hitch spoke briefly.
"My brother attended St. Ambrose University in the 1960s," Michael said, referring to Rev. Hitch. "He marched at this very courthouse for civil rights.
"In the 1970s, I marched here at this courthouse, asking for an end to the Vietnam War. Now, I'm here again, asking that justice be served in a peaceful and respectful way."
There are 38 men who claim they were abused as children by priests from the Davenport diocese, diocese attorney Rand Wonio said Wednesday. Lawsuits claim that the diocese knew about the abuse as far back as the 1950s and that it moved those priests to different parishes without telling parishioners.
The diocese has argued that the lawsuits should be thrown out because the allegations are too old.
No lawsuits have been settled, Mr. Wanio said.
"Again, the bishop has instructed us to make every effort to find fair settlements, and that's what we're doing now," Mr. Wanio said.
Last week, Bishop Franklin told clergy and church leaders from around the diocese that Chapter 11 bankruptcy may be the only way to fairly and honorably compensate all victims.
Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents many of the alleged victims in the sexual abuse cases, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
David Montgomery, spokesman for the diocese, also could not be reached for comment. David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), said it is rare to see this kind of courage from victims on Wednesday.
Based out of St. Louis, SNAP has 5,000 members nationwide.
"The least the bishop can do would be to sit down face to face with members of his flock," Mr. Clohessy said. "My hope is other victims aren't deterred (by bankruptcy).
"My greatest fear is they will be guilt-tripped into staying in silence. When the victims are silent, nothing changes."