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Apologizing for cover-up, diocese vows to ID accused priests

This August 2010 photo provided by Reuben Ortiz, shows retired Catholic priest Jerome Coyle in Albuquerque, N.M. An Associated Press investigation shows that the diocese based in Sioux City, Iowa, quietly transferred Coyle to New Mexico for treatment after he acknowledged in 1986 that he had sexually abused roughly 50 Iowa boys over a 20-year period. (Reuben Ortiz via AP)

SIOUX CITY -- The Sioux City Diocese on Tuesday apologized for covering up a Northwest Iowa priest's sexual abuse of dozens of boys for decades.

The diocese also promised to identify all priests who have faced credible allegations.

"It cannot be said enough that we are truly sorry for the pain victims have, do, and will face throughout their lives," the diocese said in a statement. "We are sorry for the families who have, do, and will continue to suffer with this pain. We want to do what is right to help you now and we plead with you to come forward and tell your story, so that we can have it on record."

The diocese issued the apology for mishandling the case of the Rev. Jerome Coyle, who admitted in 1986 to having sexually abused 50 boys while serving a series of Northwest Iowa parishes.

Coyle, now 85, was stripped of his parish assignments in the 1980s.  Coyle, who started as a faculty member at Bishop Heelan High School in 1959, an assistant pastor at Cathedral of the Epiphany and Immaculate Conception in the early-to-mid-1960s and pastor at St. Cecilia Parish, in Sanborn, Iowa, from 1978 to 1986, was never defrocked despite being publicly identified by the church as an admitted pedophile. 

Through an Oct. 31 investigative report by the Associated Press, it was discovered that the diocese helped Coyle move into a retirement home in Fort Dodge, Iowa, without informing administrators of a Catholic school located across the street. The diocese has since announced plans to relocate Coyle.

"We know that the AP reporter is now investigating all of our past and present actions at the Diocese of Sioux City, in order to create his next story," the diocese said in a news release on Tuesday. "We are researching old records with the Review Board," an advisory board made such lay people as licensed therapists, nurses, police officers, a judge and a psychiatrist.

The board will offer recommendations to the Rev. R. Walker Nickless, bishop of the Sioux City Diocese.

The diocese pointed out that prior to 2002, the church often sent priests to treatment, "in hopes that any actions of misconduct could be cured." 

Following the 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," new protocol was placed in the reporting of abuse.

"It should be noted that after the 2002 Charter, we asked the Woodbury County Attorney and other county attorneys to come in and look through priest record," the press release said. "At that time, they declined for various reasons including (the passing of statute of limitations and many of the accused priests were dead.) 

The diocese is currently creating a list of credibly accused priests, which will be published. A Dec. 6 meeting between the diocese and the Iowa Attorney General has also been scheduled.

In its news release Tuesday, the diocese disclosed it received an allegation in the past year of a priest touching a girl’s leg. The unidentified priest was removed immediately from pastoral ministry, and civil authorities were notified. However, the county attorney did not pursue the case at this time. Relatives of the priest have taken him into their home for the present time, according to the news release.

The diocese urged anyone who has ever been abused by one of its priests to report the misconduct. The diocese says it will use all information in its possession to create and publish a list of credibly accused priests, a step it had long resisted. Individuals should call the Victims Assistance Coordinator at 866-435-4397 or 712-279-5610. 

"As we follow up on past cases, we want to do that in a way that helps victims to feel that have some peace and justice," the press release read.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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