Pope Francis removes Iowa priest for sexually abusing minor
A veteran Iowa pastor has been removed from the priesthood by Pope Francis after a church investigation determined he had sexually assaulted a juvenile decades ago.
Howard Fitzgerald had been on administrative leave since June and has a 35-year history of working in Iowa churches. His most recent postings were at Immaculate Conception Church, St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Simpson College, according to the Des Moines Register.
The 63-year-old was the subject of a diocese review that found “credible evidence” Fitzgerald abused a minor in a “decades-old” incident. Those findings were sent to the Vatican, where the Pope ordered Fitzgerald removed from the priesthood.
“I encourage your prayers for Howard at this time, as well as continuing prayer for victims of sexual abuse both by the clergy and perpetrators in the broader society,” wrote Bishop Richard Pates of the Diocese of Des Moines in a memo to employees, the paper said.
The victim requested that no details be released, including the specific acts and when they occurred.
But the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which advocates for victims, has criticized the diocese and accused it of being secretive in the case.
“It is irresponsible for the Catholic bishops to recruit, educate, ordain, hire, transfer and protect predator priests and then suddenly cut them loose on the rest of society when they’re caught molesting kids,” said director David Clohessy.
Fitzgerald is the fifth Des Moines pastor to face being defrocked since 2003 for sexual abuse. The Diocese of Davenport filed for bankruptcy in 2006 after a $37 million settlement was reached to compensate 160 sexual abuse victims.