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Two priests suspended due to molestation claims

Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 12:17 p.m. CDT

IOWA CITY (AP) — Two Catholic priests in eastern Iowa have been temporarily removed from the ministry during an investigation into allegations that they sexually molested children decades ago, the Diocese of Davenport said Monday.

The diocese received separate reports of abuse allegations late last week against Father Robert Harness, the pastor of Holy Family Church in Davenport, and John Stack, the chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Clinton, spokesman David Montgomery said.

He said the diocese turned over the reports to the Scott County Attorney’s Office, which has given church officials permission to proceed with an internal investigation into the claims.

The diocese said in a statement that Harness has been accused of inappropriately touching a minor in approximately 1990. At the time, he was a pastor at St. Mary’s in Keota. Stack is accused of inappropriately touching minors in “approximately the 1980s.” He worked at Holy Family from 1988 until 1990.

Montgomery said it’s not clear what prompted the accusers to come forward now, and that no other details of the allegations would be released during the investigations.

A review board will ultimately review the investigative findings and recommend to Bishop Martin Amos whether it believes the priests should be punished or cleared, he said.

Harness and Stack didn’t immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment left at their offices. Diocese officials will soon meet with Holy Family leaders to “assess its immediate needs and other issues of healing that may arise,” Montgomery said.

Mercy Medical Center said in a statement that Stack has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, even though “the allegation was not related in any way to Mercy or his pastoral care of patients or residents.”

The diocese has been hit hard by the allegations of the decades-long sexual abuse of minors that roiled the Catholic Church worldwide. The diocese emerged from bankruptcy protection last year after fulfilling the terms of a $37 million settlement that compensated more than 160 victims. The diocese has released the names of more than 30 priests against whom credible abuse allegations have been leveled.

Craig Levien, a Davenport attorney who has represented dozens of victims, said that roughly $1 million remains in a fund that was created under the settlement to compensate victims who had not yet stepped forward. He said the allegations against Harness would be troubling to many of his clients because he provided counseling to them after they came forward.

He said the latest allegations illustrate how difficult it is for victims to report what happened.

“Even after the publicity and the bankruptcy and the notice of claims were sent out, it shows how troubled people are in trying to make a report and how no court can set a timeline or deadline on these things,” he said. “The victim just has to, in their path of healing, come to a point where they can actually report it to authorities.”

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