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Omaha Archdiocese reports substantiated allegations of misconduct, abuse involving 38 clergy

December 3, 2018

Shock and questions abound after the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha made public on Friday the names of 38 clergy members accused of sexual misdeeds with minors.

The archdiocese said “substantiated claims of sexual abuse of, or sexual misconduct with, a minor” had been made against 34 priests and four deacons on a list it provided to Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, who had asked for the information.

The files go back to 1978, as requested by the attorney general. Only a few of the accused have faced criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

The list included widely known abuser priests from Omaha, such as Daniel Herek and the late John Fiala. Herek was convicted of molesting a 14-year-old altar boy and was accused in civil court of sexually abusing several others. Fiala, after facing sex abuse allegations in Omaha, was allowed to continue as a priest in Texas, where he raped a 16-year-old boy, then tried to hire an assassin to kill the youth. Fiala was sentenced in 2012 to 60 years in prison.

The list released Friday also revealed the existence of allegations against 15 priests that previously had not been made public. Shock waves are likely to ripple through Catholic circles in Omaha over some of the revelations, such as the allegations that were made against the Rev. Daniel Kenney, the Jesuit priest who founded Operation Others in 1968 and became widely known and highly regarded at Creighton Prep.

The archdiocese announcement did not include details on the cases. They appear to range widely in severity, from a deacon once laying hands on a teenager with whom he was praying, to allegations of sexual abuse of multiple youths over several years.

Some of the allegations date back 50 years or more. Others occurred more recently, such as a young man’s 2018 misdemeanor sexual assault report against the Rev. Francis Nigli that rocked Omaha’s St. Wenceslaus parish after people learned that he had faced a similar accusation from an O’Neill, Nebraska, 18-year-old in 2013.

The archdiocese was responding to a request made in September by Attorney General Peterson that all three Nebraska dioceses open their personnel files for review. That request came on the heels of a damning grand jury report from Pennsylvania in which about 300 priests allegedly sexually abused more than 1,000 minors over a 70-year period.

The Attorney General’s Office received the report and is reviewing it, spokeswoman Suzanne Gage said. She said the office had also received files from Nebraska’s two other dioceses, based in Lincoln and Grand Island.

On Friday, Creighton University President Daniel Hendrickson, a Jesuit priest, in an email to faculty, staff and students, explained the role that one of the two Jesuits listed in the archdiocesan report had at the university and called for prayers for those who have been hurt or abused.

The Chicago-based USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, which governs Jesuit priests in Omaha, said Friday that it was planning to release its list on Dec. 17 of Jesuits who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The Omaha Archdiocese noted that most of the cases on its list were old — predating 2002, when a bombshell report about Catholic priest sexual abuse in Boston forced the church in the United States to acknowledge two crimes: the sexual abuse of minors and an institutional cover-up.

That year, the Omaha archdiocese implemented reforms aimed at protecting children. But in a video statement released Friday, Omaha Archbishop George Lucas said he will seek a “more specific code of conduct” for clergy and other church workers “so that our clergy and all of you will understand what’s expected of us as we carry out our ministry.”

In the nearly five-minute video, Lucas referred people to the archdiocesan website for more details and apologized “on behalf of the people of God.”

“I’m sorry for what you have experienced in the church,” he said, adding: “We cannot change the sins or the betrayals of the past, but we can acknowledge these ugly truths of the past so that we can repent and so that we can be resolute in our determination that these things will not be repeated.”

Lucas said the archdiocese has a zero-tolerance policy and that it is no place “for anyone guilty of abuse of a minor.”

The archdiocese submitted information on 24 archdiocesan priests, and 10 priests from other dioceses or religious orders, with substantiated allegations of the abuse of minors or misconduct with minors. In all, documentation on 38 clergy members was given to the attorney general in connection with alleged abuse or misconduct with minors as far back as 1956 but the archdiocese said was reported to it between 1978 and 2018.

Of the 38 clergy, 34 allegedly offended before 2002 and the establishment of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The archdiocese said the report will be updated if officials receive future substantiated allegations or after the archdiocese conducts an upcoming forensic audit of its historic clergy files. Lucas anticipates that more victims will come forward as a result of Friday’s action, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese.

“His biggest goal was to say to victims, you are heard, you deserve to be heard, and we want to help you begin the healing process,” McNeil said.

Lucas said no one currently serving in ministry — 132 active priests and 215 active deacons in the Archdiocese of Omaha — has had one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a young person.

“When we see these numbers that go back many decades, we can see that there was a pattern of failure — both on the part of those who misused their office to abuse minors and vulnerable adults, and on the part of those who refused to listen to victims in a compassionate, just and forthright way,” Lucas said.

The following is a searchable list of those named by the Archdiocese of Omaha:

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