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O’Keefe’s name removed from St. Ambrose library
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O’Keefe’s name removed from St. Ambrose library

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St. Ambrose University removed the late Bishop Gerald O'Keefe's name from the SAU library, a concession to victims who say he failed to protect them from sexual abuse by priests in the Davenport diocese.

Mark Powell, a former seminarian, was sexually abused as a teenager by a former Bettendorf priest. Last September, he asked SAU to "acknowledge the struggle of sexual abuse victims in the Diocese" by removing Bishop O'Keefe's name from the library.

The request maintained the removal was warranted because of the bishop's failure to take necessary precautions to protect children from clergy sexual abuse that occurred during his tenure as bishop, SAU spokeswoman Jane Kettering said.

Bishop O'Keefe -- head of the Davenport Roman Catholic diocese from 1966 to 1993 -- died in April 2000 at age 82.

The SAU board's decision -- at a special meeting Friday -- was based on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee of the board appointed by former SAU president Edward Rogalski.

"While a very difficult decision, the board felt it was the right thing to do for the university, as well as a step taken in the spirit of promoting healing within the diocese and, in a larger sense, for all victims of abuse," the board said in a prepared statement.

"Obviously, it was not an easy decision," Bishop Martin Amos - current head of the diocese and president of the SAU board - said later Friday.

"They really felt it was the right thing to do," he said of the board. "Perhaps it will bring healing. I hope it says that we are serious about this business."

The library - named for Bishop O'Keefe when it opened in 1996 -- will be referred to as the St. Ambrose Library until it can be renamed at an appropriate time.

"I think it's certainly a positive step," said Terry McKiernan, co-director and founder of www.bishop-accountability.org. The four-year-old Web site details sexual abuse allegations and cases against Catholic dioceses - including Davenport - across the nation.

"This is the theme across the country. Both abusers and church bureaucrats who tolerated abuse were honored," Mr. McKiernan said of building names and displays of portraits. "It's a very difficult thing for survivors to cope with. The people responsible for this misery were being honored."

The bishop accountability site includes depositions by Bishop O'Keefe and copies of sexual abuse allegations in the diocese dating back to 1948.

Five years after he admitted to sexual abuse of minors, photos of former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell still hang in a Catholic high school in Knoxville, Tenn., Mr. McKiernan said. A group of determined Catholics has worked to remove the images.

Mr. McKiernan's site says that Davenport is the only U.S. diocese where diocesan abuse files can be read together with detailed accounts written by the survivors themselves.

According to an article in the SAU student newspaper, The Buzz, Bishop O'Keefe told Mr. Powell to keep silent when he reported the abuse as a 17-year-old seminarian in the 1970s.

"I want them to acknowledge the pain I've suffered, and many have suffered, because of what Bishop O'Keefe failed to do," Mr. Powell said in April.

In March, the SAU board adopted a policy that said "the naming of buildings is a permanent act, but if the honoree violates the standards of integrity and civic leadership, it can be removed by an ad hoc subcommittee of three board members."

The Davenport diocese has settled 43 lawsuits against priests for about $10 million. The suits targeted behavior of priests accused of sexually assaulting children dating back to the 1950s and blamed church hierarchy for covering up the actions. The diocese filed for bankruptcy last October, becoming just the fourth Catholic diocese in the country to do so.

"On behalf of the survivors that I have represented, we applaud the effort of the St. Ambrose board to remove Bishop O'Keefe's name from the library," said Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who has represented about 100 victims of clergy abuse.

SAU's move is "recognition that a cover-up of abuse by clergy in the Davenport diocese is a wrong and that men that participated in it should not be honored," he said.

"I represented several individuals who made direct complaints to Bishop O'Keefe about abuse and nothing was done," Mr. Levien said.

The SAU board should similarly look to address Hayes Hall, a 40-year-old dormitory named for the late Bishop Ralph Hayes, the attorney said. Bishop Hayes served as head of the diocese from 1958 to 1966, immediately prior to Bishop O'Keefe. Press release submitted by St. Ambrose University:

Today, Friday, Aug. 3, in a special meeting of the St. Ambrose University Board of Directors, the board voted to remove the late Bishop Gerald O’Keefe’s name from the St. Ambrose library.

The board’s decision was based on the recommendation of an ad hoc committee of the board appointed by St. Ambrose University President Edward Rogalski to investigate a request to remove O’Keefe’s name from the library.

The request maintained that the removal was warranted because of the bishop’s failure to take the necessary precautions to protect children from clergy sexual abuse that occurred during his tenure as bishop of the Davenport Diocese.

Guided by the university’s naming policy, the board determined that the request justified the removal of Bishop O’Keefe’s name from the SAU library. While a very difficult decision, the board felt it was the right thing to do for the university, as well as a step taken in the spirit of promoting healing within the diocese and, in a larger sense, for all victims of abuse.

The library will be referred to as the St. Ambrose Library until such time that the board is able to determine the appropriate course of action for its renaming.

MEDIA STATEMENT

Contact: Jane Kettering

563/333-6284

309/737-0612

KetteringJaneE@sau.edu

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