In 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)

Bishop vows to relocate accused priest away from Iowa school

November 01, 2018 - 1:41 pm

FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — A bishop is vowing to relocate a priest who was quietly placed in an Iowa retirement home close to a Roman Catholic school despite his history of sexually abusing boys.

The move by Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless followed an Associated Press story exposing the church's three-decade cover-up of abuse by the Rev. Jerome Coyle.

Also Thursday, the Iowa attorney general's office said it has opened an inquiry into the handling of clergy abuse. Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement that he was appalled by cases of abuse and cover-up that had been documented in Pennsylvania and "cases in Iowa that have gone unreported."

Coyle admitted in 1986 that he sexually abused approximately 50 boys over 20 years while serving at several Iowa parishes , according to the Diocese of Sioux City, which never told the public until Wednesday.

The diocese transferred Coyle to a treatment center in New Mexico for accused clergy and stripped him of his parish assignments. He lived and worked in New Mexico for decades as a civilian.

Coyle, now 85, moved in with a Catholic family in Albuquerque after suffering injures in a car accident last year. The diocese revealed what Nickless called Coyle's "past transgressions" in a February letter to the family warning that it was too risky to allow him to live with their three teenage children.

The diocese eventually moved Coyle in June into the Marian Home in Fort Dodge, Iowa, an assisted living center. It's across the street from Saint Edmond Catholic School, which has hundreds of students from kindergarten through high school.

In a video and letter to parishioners issued Wednesday, Nickless claimed that the diocese moved Coyle back to Iowa "because of his advanced age and frail condition."

But in February, a diocese review board that includes Nickless sought to discourage Coyle from returning, warning that his presence could traumatize his now-adult victims and that the move would be difficult due to his age.

Nickless said that Coyle's residence at the Marian Home was never intended to be permanent and that he would not be staying there.

Nickless also asserted that Coyle was under "strict supervision" at the home. AP journalists didn't see signs of supervision when visiting Coyle's apartment last week, where he answered the door and declined comment.

The diocese acknowledged that school administrators weren't informed about Coyle's past when he was placed there.

In a letter to parents obtained by AP, school President Mary Gibb wrote that she was "deeply sorry" that parents had learned of the situation through news reports.

She said that none of the students had contact with Coyle during visits to the Marian Home because they do not go to the area where Coyle lives.

"The safety of our students is and will always be my #1 priority," wrote Gibb, who had declined comment when contacted about Coyle last week.

Coyle reported his abuse to then-Bishop Lawrence Soens, 92, who hung up when reached for comment at a Sioux City retirement home Thursday.

Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for Iowa's attorney general, said his office doesn't have the legal authority to conduct a statewide investigative grand jury like one that recently found 300 "predator priests" had abused 1,000 children in Pennsylvania. But he said the office is gathering information and examining options for moving forward. His office called on Iowa dioceses to comply with a U.S. Department of Justice request to preserve documents related to abuse and personnel.

Miller has already met with Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates and plans to meet with other bishops in coming weeks. His office invited victims of clergy abuse who want to provide information about their experiences to get in touch.