Calling for vigilance on the part of all church members to prevent future instances of child sexual abuse, Bishop James Conley of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln has released a list of 12 men who have worked in priestly ministry in the diocese and have been the subject of allegations involving minors or young adults.

The list released Tuesday includes the names of nine priests or former priests who have served in the diocese — including four who held positions at one time in Tribland communities — who have been the subject of “substantiated” allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual abuse involving minors or young adults through the years, by the reckoning of an independent task force advising Conley on child abuse, sexual misconduct and related matters.

Three other priests, including a deceased former longtime diocesan vocations director, were identified as being under investigation for alleged misconduct involving minors or young adults.

The Diocese of Lincoln encompasses all of Nebraska south of the Platte River and includes all of the Nebraska portion of Tribland.

Conley, who has led the diocese since 2012, released the list of accused priests or former priests in a special statement alongside a newly revised, comprehensive diocesan policy for the protection of youth.

The policy revisions, which take effect June 1, cover everything from protocol for clergy and seminarians participating in youth outings, to procedures church personnel must follow in reporting suspected child abuse or neglect to civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

The complete policy document is available online at

“There is no single answer, or single action, to combat this crisis, but I find myself consistently coming back to the same fundamental idea —  vigilance,” said Conley, who has publicly accused himself of failing to provide effective leadership regarding the sexual abuse crisis.

“We must be vigilant. We can have policies and safe environment programming, but without vigilance and watchfulness by me, my staff, our clergy, our teachers, and you — the faithful — those policies and programs simply will not work. Our commitment to protecting children cannot be limited to words that are put on a shelf to collect dust, but instead requires constant action and a continuing effort to build a culture of vigilance and zero tolerance.”

Conley said the release of names was consistent with the recommendation of the independent task force, members of which he appointed in fall 2018.

The four-person task force finished its work in March, presenting its recommendations for policy development and other actions to the bishop. Task force members, all of whom are Catholic and all of whom live in the Lincoln area, include a retired former assistant U.S. Attorney.

According to the statement from Conley, “substantiated allegations” have been judged by the independent task force to be more likely true than not true, based on available information. Allegations against most of the men on the list have been publicized over the past several months, but some still are under investigation and some aren’t prosecutable in a court of civil law.

Importantly, the list doesn’t include the names of several other priests with Tribland ties who have been placed on administrative leave in recent months related to alleged or admitted past misconduct.

The Rev. Nicholas Kipper, diocesan communications director, said priests on administrative leave who weren’t included on Tuesday’s list were left off because the alleged misconduct in their cases doesn’t include sexual abuse of children or young adults. Those priests will remain on leave until they are deemed suitable for return to active ministry.

“At the very least, we can conclude that the task force did not believe they should be on this list,” Kipper said.

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office is conducting its own, separate investigation of sexual abuse reports in the Diocese of Lincoln, the Archdiocese of Omaha and the Diocese of Grand Island. Leaders of the three dioceses have pledged their cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office effort.

To date, around two-thirds of U.S. Catholic dioceses have published lists of accused priests amid the fallout of an abuse scandal stretching across the United States and around the world. The Archdiocese of Omaha released a list of nearly 40 names in November 2018.

Kipper said Conley felt strongly that a list must be published for the sake of victims, many of whom remained silent for years or still have not told their stories, and the validation such disclosure can provide for what they have suffered.

“It allows for victims to heal and for victims to come forward, seeing those names,” he said.

The list is considered a “living document” and will be updated from time to time, with possible additions of names in the future and the possibility of names being removed as warranted by the outcome of investigations.

The list

Among the priests or former priests who held Tribland assignments and who were included on the “substantiated allegations” list, sexual abuse of minors is the allegation in all cases.

The men on the list are:

— Monsignor Clarence Crowley, who was ordained in 1937 and served in St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings as assistant pastor from 1938-44, then was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Hebron from 1944-58, famously rebuilding the church, rectory and parochial school there after they were destroyed by a tornado on May 9, 1953. Crowley went on to spend many years as rector of the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln. He died in 1986.

— The Rev. James Benton, who was ordained in 1973, served as assistant pastor of St. Michael's Parish in Hastings from 1976-79 while also serving as assistant chaplain of the Hastings Regional Center, and many years later served as administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Harvard, then from 2013-17 as pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Minden and Holy Family Parish in Heartwell. During his years of residence in Harvard, he also worked at Catholic Social Services in Hastings and served Spanish-speaking Catholics in the Hastings area, conducting services at Holy Cross Chapel in the Crosier Park Professional Center.

Citing health concerns, Benton resigned his Minden/Heartwell pastorate and took early retirement in December 2017 following a monthlong leave of absence. He has had his priestly faculties revoked and his public ministry restricted, meaning he is unable to celebrate Mass publicly and isn’t allowed to publicly represent himself as a priest.

— The Rev. John Copenhaver served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Superior and Sacred Heart Parish in Nelson, then later assisted in St. Cecilia Parish in Hastings. He retired in 2012 and had his priestly faculties revoked and public ministry restricted that same year — meaning he, too, is unable to celebrate Mass publicly and isn’t allowed to publicly represent himself as a priest.

— Richard Deonise, who was ordained a priest in 1983 and served as assistant pastor at St. Michael's Parish in Hastings in the mid- to late 1980s. Deonise was excommunicated in 1994, meaning he may neither administer nor receive the sacraments of the Catholic Church, nor serve as a pastor nor exercise any ministry.

According to Conley’s statement, excommunication is “a formal act of censure under Canon law that a bishop may impose for grave delicts.” Canon law refers to the legal code governing the universal Roman Catholic Church. Deonise is the only person on the list released Tuesday shown to have been sanctioned with excommunication.

A fifth priest with history in Tribland who has been accused of wrongdoing is Monsignor Leonard Kalin, who was ordained in 1956 and served as an assistant pastor in St. Cecilia Parish and as a teacher at St. Cecilia School during that same period. He went on to serve as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Lincoln from 1970 until his retirement in 1998, and as chaplain of the Newman Center for Catholic college and university students there as part of the same assignment.

St. Thomas Aquinas is the parish for students attending colleges and universities throughout Lincoln. Kalin also served as vocations director for the diocese.

Kalin died in 2008 following a long illness. He has been accused of sexual misconduct involving seminarians and other young adults, including grooming.

On Tuesday, Conley announced he is commissioning a diocesan investigation into the allegations against Kalin, who was an influential member of the Lincoln clergy and was celebrated for helping many young men and women answer a call to the priesthood or religious life.

“The investigation of Monsignor Leonard Kalin is critical to our diocese moving forward,” Conley wrote. “Though now deceased, as the vocations director for decades, Monsignor Kalin was well-known and had contact with many of our current clergy and lay leaders in the diocese.

“When public allegations were made last August that Monsignor Leonard Kalin engaged in sexual misconduct and emotional and physical boundary violations with young adults, it created a dark cloud over his entire legacy within the diocese,” Conley wrote. “By shining this light on Monsignor Kalin and his past conduct, we hope to better understand the scope of his actions and, if necessary, provide appropriate support to our priests, lay leaders, and anyone else who may have been victimized.”

A sixth priest listed as still under investigation is the Rev. Charles Townsend, who was ordained in 1991 and served as an assistant pastor in St. Michael’s Parish in Hastings from 1993-95 while also working with students in Hastings Catholic Schools. Townsend also spent time working in St. Cecilia Parish either as a priest or transitional deacon. He resigned the pastorate of St. Peter’s Parish in Lincoln in August 2018 and was placed on administrative leave by the diocese over allegations of misconduct and grooming. In March 2019, he pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of procuring alcohol for a minor.

Priests or former priests placed on the “substantiated allegations” list who served in the Diocese of Lincoln but not in Tribland communities are:

— Monsignor Jerome Murray, who was ordained in 1949, retired in 1999 and died in 2016. Murray had his faculties revoked and public ministry restricted following his retirement (between 2002 and 2005), having been accused of sexual abuse of minors.

— The Rev. Aloysius Piorkowski, who was ordained in 1935 and never was a Lincoln diocesan priest but did hold some assignments in the diocese. He left the Diocese of Lincoln in 1959 and died in 1978. He has been accused of sexual abuse of minors.

— Robert Hrdlicka, who was ordained a priest in 1977 and held several assignments in the diocese before becoming a U.S. Navy chaplain. He was removed from public ministry and criminally charged in 1993. He was laicized (removed from the “clerical state”) in 2005. He was accused of sexual abuse of minors. His current status is listed as unknown.

— Paul Margand, who was ordained a priest in 1985 and held assignments in Plattsmouth and Lincoln. He was removed from public ministry and criminally charged in 1987. He was laicized in 2004. His current status is unknown.

— Sean Redmond, who was ordained a priest in 1990 and held several parish and school assignments. He was removed from public ministry in 2009 and laicized in 2010. His current status is unknown.

Men who have been laicized have been “permanently removed from the clerical state” by authority of the Holy See — meaning the papal administration at the Vatican. Men sometimes asked to be laicized, and bishops sometimes petition to the Holy See for laicization of a priest against that priest’s will. Whatever the case, laicized priests don’t retain any affiliation with the diocese.

In the Catholic Church, Holy Orders (ordination to the priesthood or diaconate) is a sacrament, and the church teaches that the sacrament can’t be expunged from the recipient’s soul. Therefore, a priest (or deacon) who has been laicized technically hasn’t had his ordination nullified, but simply has been released from all obligations, faculties, rights and privileges associated with being a member of the clergy.

A third priest, in addition to Kalin and Townsend, is listed as being under investigation at this time. He is the Rev. Thomas Dunavan, who was ordained in 1998 and served most recently as pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Falls City and chief administrative officer of Sacred Heart School in Falls City. He was placed on administrative leave in mid-March pending further investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct and/or grooming against him.


Recommended for you