SIOUX CITY | After more than 55 years, a new sexual abuse allegation is casting a shadow on the career of a now-deceased priest who served in the Sioux City Diocese during the 1960s.
The Rev. Peter Murphy, who served at eight parishes throughout Northwestern Iowa in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, has been accused of raping and sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy while he was a temporary assistant at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Sioux City in 1960.
In early June, the diocese published an article in the Catholic Globe newspaper explaining it had received information that Murphy had committed sexually abusive acts against a minor that year.
The article requested anyone with information of sexual abuse against minors by Murphy contact the diocese or the Mercy Child Advocacy Center. Notices have also been distributed to the parishes where Murphy worked.
"By putting that into the Catholic Globe about Father Peter Murphy and in parish bulletins where he served, we are searching for information if there are other potential abuse victims out there," said Sioux City Diocese spokeswoman Kristie Arlt.
Arlt said anyone who has allegations of a current or past abuse will be connected with professional help. She said the diocese has a partnership with the Mercy Child Advocacy Center in Sioux City, a comprehensive program that serves victims of child abuse.
"Our goal is to be transparent and to help any victims that might come forward," Arlt said.
According to the Globe article, Murphy was ordained in 1955. Along with Blessed Sacrament Parish, Murphy served at St. Mary Church in Danbury, Iowa; Assumption Parish in Emmetsburg, Iowa; Sacred Heart Parish in Fort Dodge, Iowa; St. Michael Parish in Whittemore, Iowa; St. Joseph Parish in Bode, Iowa; St. Rose of Lima Parish in Denison, Iowa; and Sacred Heart Parish in Spencer, Iowa.
Arlt said Murphy moved around frequently and served in Sioux City for a brief time due to a chronic illness. He died in 1980.
Tim Lennon, who grew up in Sioux City and now lives in San Francisco, came forward publicly earlier this year about his abuse. Lennon, now 69, said he was violently raped and sexually abused by Murphy while Lennon served as an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament at age 12. He said memories of his abuse did not surface until the 1990s, and memories of his rape did not return until 2010.
"When I was 12, I basically froze," he said. "It took me 50-some years to challenge and fight back."
Lennon said he first wrote to the diocese in 1996 and received what he described as a "dismissive" reply informing him that Murphy was dead. He again contacted the chancellor in 2010, but he said he did not have the emotional strength to confront the church until 2016, when he arranged a personal meeting with Bishop R. Walter Nickless.
Lennon said earlier this year, he put notices in the papers in Fort Dodge and two smaller towns in the areas Murphy had served, asking for information about Murphy around 1959. He said he received six responses, four of which detailed activity that was abusive or sexual in nature.
Lennon said he now knows Murphy abused other children prior to coming to Sioux City. He alleges that it was discovery of abuse, not chronic illness, that caused Murphy to leave Sioux City.
So far, Arlt said, Lennon's is the only allegation against Murphy the diocese has received.
Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests has been a worldwide issue that the church, including the Diocese of Sioux City, has taken steps toward correcting and preventing in recent years.
In 2004, the Sioux City Diocese stated it had received 33 allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against 10 priests over the past 53 years. None of those priests, the diocese said, were in public ministry, and six had died. At the time, the priests represented 1.8 percent of the 545 priests and deacons who had served in the diocese.
According to diocese data, between 2002 and 2010, the year the last lawsuit was filed, the diocese has reached settlements with 46 people who said they had been sexually abused, most of whom did not file suit. Of those settlements, 32 were against a single priest.
In all, settlements have resulted in $4.1 million of payouts, which were funded either by the diocese, its insurance company or the priest who committed the abuse.
Arlt said the diocese has also reimbursed or paid therapy costs in many of the cases.
“I’ve worked with Bishop Nickless for nine years, and he is extremely compassionate to these victims,” she said. “It is priority No. 1 to keep these people safe and help these victims that have been victimized in years past.”
Arlt said the diocese has for the past few years considered making a list of the known abusers' names public in the future, something 30 of the dioceses in the United States have done to date. She could not confirm how many names would be on that list if it were released.
Lennon said this is something he would like to see done, especially so parishioners know whether any of the living priests have re-entered the public ministry.
"What I would like to know is, are they still living, or are they still in ministry?” he said.
Arlt said the Catholic Church and the Sioux City Diocese have taken conscious steps toward preventing future child abuse, as well. In response to the Charter for the Protection of Children as adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas in June 2002, the diocese instituted VIRTUS, a nationally recognized program designed to create a safe environment for all children.
The diocese's program enforces a strict code of conduct for all clergy, parish and school employees and volunteers to adhere to, comprehensive background checks, and an education program to teach how to recognize and report sexual abuse and abusers.
Lennon, who now works with the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he hopes his story will lead to a continued increase of transparency and reporting within the Catholic church and with local authorities. He also hopes it will strengthen other victims to know they are not alone.
"There’s a lot of people who think they’re alone who think they’re the only ones, that it’s too bleak and it will never get better," he said.
Last month, after Lennon started sharing his story publicly, he said others also began sharing their stories in response.
“I’ve been contacted by six to eight people,” he said. "People are telling stories, some from Blessed Sacrament, some from Sioux City, so doing the news is important in helping survivors."