Throughout this year, we are celebrating the Year for Consecrated Life. Each issue of The Catholic Mirror has had a story on a different religious community that has served the Diocese of Des Moines. This Sunday, in celebration of this special year, there will be a Mass honoring those in consecrated life who serve our diocese. They will be honored at the 10:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Ambrose Cathedral. Join us in thanking these men and women for answering their vocational call to religious life and for serving the people of God in southwest Iowa.
Four Iowa bishops support Education Savings Accounts
The four Iowa Catholic bishops urge state lawmakers to adopt legislation that enacts Education Savings Accounts, a tool that allows parents to choose the best and most suitable education for their children regardless of economic standing.
Through ESAs, the state would deposit funds each year in an account that parents of nonpublic school children could access for tuition, fees and tutoring. The funds deposited in the account would be the average state foundation aid per pupil. Schools are typically funded with state aid, local property taxes and federal funds.
The bishops, through the Iowa Catholic Conference, issued a statement urging support for ESAs at the start of Catholic Schools Week, which began Jan. 25.
“The Iowa Catholic Conference, with the support of thousands of Iowans, asks the legislature to enact an ESA program during the 2015 legislative session,” the bishops wrote. “This innovative idea would further level the playing field for parents who lack the resources to choose freely their children’s education setting or who are struggling to keep their children in the school of their choice.”
Iowa is a leader in supporting education choice. For example, the state allows for “open enrollment” for some public school parents, provides the tuition tax credit and offers state-funded preschool. In 2006, lawmakers enacted legislation that established school tuition organizations. Named the Catholic Tuition Organization in the Diocese of Des Moines, this organization accepts donations and assists families that need financial help with tuition so they can choose Catholic schools for their children. This landmark legislation in Iowa was instrumental in allowing parents to choose a school that reflects the convictions of their families. Thanks to the CTO, families can choose top-notch schools with high academic achievement while having their children in a faith-filled educational environment.
“The Diocese of Des Moines and I personally support strong public schools,” wrote Bishop Richard Pates in his monthly column in The Catholic Mirror newspaper. “At the same time, we advocate parental choice in education. Also, in the present environment, we do not want our Catholic schools to become preserves for the elite or wealthy. They should be realistically accessible to all.”
The four bishops signing the statement are: Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels, Davenport Bishop Martin Amos, Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless and Bishop Pates.
“The state should respect and support the right of parents to choose the most appropriate education for their children and, as far as possible, make such choosing fair and unimpeded,” the bishops said. “Education Savings Accounts will help give parents the freedom to make a real choice in education.
Pope grants priest’s request for laicization
Pope Francis granted Howard Fitzgerald’s request for a dispensation from the priesthood and the obligation of celibacy on Jan. 19 following a credible allegation that came to the attention of the Diocese of Des Moines last year regarding a decades-old case of sexual abuse.
“I personally met with Howard Fitzgerald and notified him of the Holy Father’s decision to grant his request for laicization. His laicization occurred at the moment of this notification,” said Bishop Pates. “I sent a memo to priests of the diocese and then left for several meetings out of town for the duration of the week. Now that I have returned to Des Moines, I would like to share further information with the people of the Diocese of Des Moines.”
Fitzgerald was placed on indefinite administrative leave last June and could not function publicly as a priest after the diocesan Allegation Review Committee deemed an allegation to be credible. Details of the allegation have not been released at the insistence of the victim. A press release was issued June 30, 2014, shortly after the Allegation Review Committee transmitted its recommendation to Bishop Richard Pates. All parishes in the diocese were notified of the situation, in particular those which he served.
Fitzgerald voluntarily petitioned Pope Francis to release him from the priesthood and sacred celibacy. The diocese has been advised by Fitzgerald’s counselor that he is no threat to broader society. He will be granted three months separation compensation and will have the opportunity to work at a secular job until retirement. He will have access to Social Security and retirement benefits of the diocese in which he is vested. He has indicated that he will be residing with family. Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Fitzgerald should do so through the Catholic Pastoral Center and the communication will be forwarded to him.
After the diocese learned of the allegation, the victim was provided the services of the diocesan Victim Assistance Advocate. Local law enforcement where the alleged abuse occurred and the Allegation Review Committee were immediately informed.
Bishop Pates has apologized to the victim and encourages anyone who may have been sexually abused by clergy to contact diocesan Victim Assistance Advocate Sherry Knox. She is a staff member at Polk County Victim Services. She assists victims through the complaint process and in seeking support and counseling services. Knox can be reached at 515-286-2028 or email@example.com.
Bishop Pates said it is a top priority of the Diocese of Des Moines to provide a safe environment for children and to comply with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002 that offers a comprehensive set of guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, accountability, reports to a national board and mandatory education programs in parishes and schools.
Consejero sobre Asistencia de Victimas El Consejero sobre Asistencia de Víctimas es un empleado de Polk County Victim Services. Ella ayuda a víctimas de abuso sexual por parte del clero durante el proceso de la queja y buscando servicios de apoyo y consejería. Pueden comunicarse al 515-286-2028 o en firstname.lastname@example.org.