Church Sex Abuse Victim Urges Others to Come Forward as Des Moines Diocese Releases Names of Abusive Priests

DES MOINES, Iowa --John Chambers claimed he was abused in the 1960s while at Dowling high school by Leonard Kenkel who was teaching there at the time. His claim was found to be unsubstantiated in the early 2000s. On Thursday he found out that another alleged victim's 2018 claim against Kenkel had been substantiated this year.

Chambers says it took him nearly 40 years and countless visits to therapy to come forward with his allegations of abuse.

“The ultimate threat is you'll be excommunicated, and for a catholic that was the kiss of death…I was raised that you have several missions as a catholic. One is to lead a Christ-like life, and another is that the church has to survive, and if children are abused it’s collateral damage,” said Chambers.

While the 2018 claim against Kenkel was substantiated by the church's allegation review committee, two claims in the early 2000s were not, including his own allegation.

“It's been a significant number of years, but the flavor of the meeting was 'how dare you, how dare you do this, make this allegation,’” said Chambers.

On Thursday Bishop Richard Pates published Kenkel's name, along with these eight others, as a way to show transparency and the church's commitment to eliminating sexual abuse:

  • Leonard Kenkel
  • Albert Wilwerding
  • Francis Zuch
  • Howard Fitzgerald
  • Phil Hobt
  • John Ryan
  • Richard Wagner
  • Paul Connelly
  • Dennis Mangan

Connelly and Mangan were not previously named to the public. They are thought to have abused children in the 1960s. Connelly, Mangan and Hobt have all passed away.

Meanwhile, the church is waiting to hear from the Vatican on whether Kenkel should be defrocked.

“We'll be bulldogs about going forward and enforcing the policy, because it's so important for our young people. We feel terrible, if you've ever interviewed a victim you feel how they have experienced such pain and suffering,” said Pates.

The church now requires background checks on all people within the church who work with children. So far, the Des Moines Dioecies has conducted over 18,000 checks.  The last substantiated claim against a priest came for actions committed in 1997.

Meanwhile, Waukee Police Chief John Quinn currently sits on the allegation review board. He says the church encourages victims to report alleged abuse to law enforcement but will suspend a priest and conduct an internal investigation if the allegations are not reported to police.

“I'm happy to say the steps that the church has taken have been proactive and they have the ability and affect I hope to rid the church of this plague that has followed through with it,” said Quinn.

Chambers say he knows there are others out there who have been abused and encourages them to come forward.

“It's easy to say, hard to do, but don’t be afraid. Don't be afraid that you're going to be thrown out of the church or God won't love you, or Jesus won't love you. Focus on 'it’s the right thing to do.’”

The Catholic Church encourages victims to report their abuse to law enforcement, or to Sam Porter with Polk County Crisis Advocacy at 515-286-2015 or Sam.Porter@polkcountyiowa.gov.

Porter is a third-party not affiliated with the church.

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