Attorney General, Bishop Conley reinforce commitment to investigating reports of abuse

Aug. 17, 2018, 2:21 a.m. ·

Attorney General Doug Peterson’s office and Lincoln diocese bishop James D. Conley say they are committed to investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse in light of recent mistreatment claims by members of the clergy in the Lincoln diocese.

In a column published earlier today, Conley discussed his commitment to transparency regarding potential wrongs or inappropriate relationships within the diocese. Previously, Conley has written he “did not encourage transparency” in at least one of the previous incidents involving a priest from the Lincoln Diocese. He expressed sadness for those impacted, asked for forgiveness and wrote he would “work to ensure that our diocese is led with integrity, transparency, and humility.”

“What I am now seeing in these recent situations must lead to change, in me and in the diocese as a whole. We must take even initial signs of inappropriate actions, boundary violations, and wrongful conduct as potentially something far more serious—warning signs and a demand for action,” Conley wrote in his latest article. “Let me say here, I will not and we must not dismiss or rationalize any account of any person who comes forward with a concern, and we must fully investigate every report, even more strenuously than we have in the past.”

Conley named five cases being investigated by the Diocese for alleged abuse or improper behavior:

  • Msgr. Leonard Kalin – Kalin served as the Diocese of Lincoln’s vocations director until he retired in 1998. Allegations were made against Kalin regarding his excessive smoking, drinking and gambling. Other, more serious allegations were made in regard to emotional and physical boundary violations towards college students and seminarians. Kalin died in 2008, but information is still being gathered on the case.
    • Father Charles Townsend – Townsend served as the priest for St. Peters Catholic Church in Lincoln. According to Conley, Townsend partook in an “emotionally inappropriate, non-sexual relationship with a 19-year-old male which involved alcohol.” Townsend was later sent to a treatment center in Houston, Texas, but then was returned to the parish. He has since been removed from ministry.
      • Father Patrick BarvickBarvick served as a priest for St. Mary’s in Davey. Conley said he had previously instructed Barvick to not be alone with females. However, Barvick’s behavior was contrary to Conley’s instructions, which concerned both him and the Diocesan Review Board. Barvick has been asked to temporarily step down from this position while the situation is reviewed.
        • Father Steven ThomlinsonThomlinson served, and later resigned as a priest at parishes in Exeter and Milligan. Conley discussed a past military incident that was a concern to both him and the Diocesan Review Board. In his column, Conley emphasized that Thomlinson’s behavior did not involve an offense against a minor or a parishioner.
          • Father James BentonBenton was accused of inappropriately touching a minor in 2002 during a camping trip between 1980-82. Conley said the claim was investigated by the Lincoln Diocese, but the allegation could not be substantiated.
          • Benton later resigned in 2017 after allegations surfaced of sexual abuse of two family members that occurred 25 years ago. The allegations were addressed by the Diocesan Review Board and were referred to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The CDF returned the matter to Conley. Conley prohibited Benton from exercising public ministry in the diocese and restricted him from being alone with minors.

            Peterson said this is an issue he has seen throughout the state, and it’s not just limited to the Church.

            “Unfortunately it’s not a crime that’s going down in frequency,” Peterson said. “In fact, it’s trending up. When I travel along the state and talk to law enforcement officers unfortunately the word I’m getting is ‘yeah we’re seeing a lot of child sexual assault and child abuse.’”

            By implementing a state-wide abuse hotline, Peterson said he hopes more people who have experienced abuse will come forward.

            “Our hope is that any victim who has been intimidated by anyone in their life who is in a position of authority, whether it’s in a ministerial role, whether it’s in the health practice role, whatever, youth sports, that they understand that this wasn’t right and someone should look into this because he’s continuing to do it,” Peterson said.

            Both Peterson and Conley urge those who have experienced abuse or mistreatment to contact local law enforcement or the diocese. The Nebraska Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-652-1999.