While visiting the Vatican last week, Bill Christman of Molinedelivered a letter to the pope about the sexual abuse he suffered atthe hands of a former Quad-City area priest and spoke with ahigh-ranking official from the church about clergy abuse.
Christman said he was abused by William Wiebler, who died inSeptember, and was one of the first local abuse victims to come forwardin 2002.
Last year, Christman won a $180,000 settlement from thediocese and in the process started a reconciliation with the churchthrough the help of the Rev. Bob Gruss, chancellor of the DavenportDiocese, and the Rev. Richard Barclift of St. Patrick’s Parish inAndalusia, Ill.
Gruss and former Davenport Diocese BishopWilliam Franklin wrote letters to the Vatican to help arrangeChristman’s meeting with Msgr. Robert Deeley, an official with theCongregation of the Doctrine of Faith.
Christman sat down withDeeley for a one-on-one meeting Nov. 14 and shared his story from theabuse to the church’s reaction to his allegations. He also told himabout the apology Gruss gave him at a mediation hearing in 2005 andabout the friendship he developed with Gruss afterward.
“I gavehim my view of how victims should be helped in the future to bringabout the same kind of healing,” Christman said. “I can’t guaranteeeach victim is going to receive it the way I did.”
Christmansaid he became angry with the Davenport Diocese after it moved Wieblerto the St. Louis area without telling him and failed to address hiscomplaints about the abuse.
Deeley was receptive and toldChristman that church leaders could have done a better job of handlinghis case. He also was critical of local church leaders for arranging ameeting between Wiebler and Christman with the bishop present,Christman said.
“He said I was just one of a handful in thecountry who sat down with the one who abused them,” Christman said. “Hesaid in some cases it may do more harm than good.”
Following hismeeting with Deeley, Christman submitted a letter to Pope Benedict XVIand received a phone call later informing him that the letter washand-delivered.
Bob Noonan, an author from Canaan, Maine, who iswriting a book about Christman’s experience, joined Christman andBarclift on the trip. He said after the meeting with Deeley, Christmanwas pleased with the outcome and found Deeley to be sincere.
Noonansaid a problem for victims is they deal with the church as aninstitution and it often ignores them, but they don’t always get totalk to individual church leaders about their experience.
WithDeeley, Christman “had talked to a guy that was really down to Earth,”Noonan said, noting Deeley wore informal black pants and a shirt to themeeting. “He wasn’t pompous.”
During the one-hour meeting,Deeley also told Christman that it’s been only within the past four orfive years that the church has come to realize the emotional impact theabuse has on victims, Noonan said. Deeley also told Christman that PopeBenedict XVI has taken a hard stance on abusive priests by speeding upthe process to have them defrocked.
“His reaction to priests who’ve committed abuse is that he wants them gone,” Noonan said of the pope.
The experience left Christman happy that he made the trip to Rome.
“I just received a lot of personal attention,” Christman said. “I was very pleased.”
Noonan,who was raised Catholic, said that before hearing Christman’s story andtraveling to Rome, he was cynical toward the church and its reaction tothe abuse scandal.
“This has kind of opened up my eyes a bit,” he said.
Dustin Lemmon can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.