After some 25 sexual abuse allegations, he says 'a bunch of lies' have 'ruined me'
Advocates for victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests are angry that a retired priest who once served Storm Lake has not been defrocked, despite more allegations against him than any other Iowa priest in the past 50 years.
At least 25 people have accused the Rev. George McFadden, 80, of sexually abusing them as children while he served in six northwest Iowa parishes from 1953-92.
McFadden started his career at Storm Lake St. Mary's Church from 1953-57. None of the outpouring of accusations have come from the Storm Lake assignment, with the earliest report that has been made public dating to alleged abuses in 1959. Many other accusations come from the priest's stints in Jefferson and Sioux City. He also served in LeMars and Sibley before retiring in 1992. As of last July, the diocese had settled at least 22 lawsuits or sexual abuse claims, all naming McFadden, according to an Associated Press report. Three other lawsuits are pending against the diocese and McFadden.
McFadden, from his home in Fort Wayne, Ind., last Friday, said he has "never hurt anyone" and denied all allegations of abuse.
He said it was the first time he was contacted for his side of the story.
"It's a bunch of lies," McFadden said. "As long as (the diocese) will pay people money, it's going to continue. It ruined me, and I can't do anything about it. It happened 50 years ago; how can I prove it?"
Last month, the Vatican ordered McFadden to cease public ministry and have no contact with children. He also was ordered to live a life of prayer and penance - something he said he has already been doing. One source on the case claims that he has continued to receive his pension.
Victims' advocates said the Vatican ruling on McFadden is the latest puzzling decision on priests facing credible allegations of child sexual abuse.
"It's hard to figure out the Vatican's policy because there's no consistency," said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a priest and victims' advocate.
"The Vatican is out of touch," Doyle said. "I don't think they understand what is going on over here."
David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said the Vatican does not explain how or why its decisions are made.
"The Catholic laity doesn't know what priests the Vatican is being asked to sanction," Clohessy said. "They don't know what the bishops are recommending. We don't know why some get no sanctions, some get minimal sanctions and some get removed from the priesthood."
He called the prayer and penance sanction "ridiculous" and of little comfort to survivors.
Despite reportedly admitting to his superiors that he had committed harmful acts, the Vatican, citing McFadden's advanced age and repeated expressions of contrition, stopped short of removing him from the priesthood, even though the church defrocked other Iowa priests with fewer allegations against them.
Asked about the sanctions handed down by the Vatican, McFadden said, "Whatever the Vatican says is OK with me. They had it in the paper at Christmas, a terrible time. It said I was to live my life in prayer and penance, which is what I been doing anyway...
"I'd like to say that if I ever hurt anybody, any time, in any way, I'm sorry. I pray for everybody."
In Iowa's Davenport Diocese, James Janssen, 83, accused of sexually assaulting about a dozen young boys in six parishes over three decades, was defrocked in 2004.
Bishop William Franklin's request that Francis Bass, 83, of Davenport, be removed from the priesthood is still pending. Bass was alleged to have sexually abused at least a half-dozen boys and encouraged group sexual activity, according to court records.
Both Bass and Janssen have also denied the abuse in lawsuits against them.
Two Sioux City-area brothers in their 40s, are among those who have reportedly filed lawsuits against McFadden, claiming he first forced them to perform a sex act against their will and later coerced them to engage in sex acts when they were altar boys and students at St. Francis Catholic grade school. They accuse the diocese of knowing what McFadden was doing and of moving him from parish to parish to keep his abusive behavior quiet.
The lawsuits claim both men still suffer from lost sleep, anxiety attacks, nightmares, strained relationships and other issues.
One of the brothers additionally names Catholic Charities in the lawsuit, accusing it of professional negligence. The man said that when he sought counseling from the organization, he was encouraged to repress any memories of sexual abuse and "put this behind you."
Other suits claim that McFadden had also abused girls. One former Sioux City woman claims he would bring offering money to her family's home and ask the three young daughters to count it. The girls were to bring it back to the rectory when they were finished. When they performed tasks for the church, she was often abused, she said.
The latest suit against McFadden was filed this month by a former Sioux City altar boy who said he was abused when under the age of 14. Diocese officials have not yet responded, pending review of that case.
Last June, a New York man's abuse suit against McFadden made national headlines when it was dismissed by an Iowa District Court judge who said the statute of limitations between the time the man had allegedly started to remember the abuse and the time he filed the suit had run out. The man said he couldn't get a lawyer to take his case for several years.
The accuser, a Jefferson native who said McFadden abused him at least 30 times, described one alleged incident in which he said he tried to flee the priest. He said McFadden chased him and he was stopped by the priest's German shepherd, who barked in his face.
McFadden reportedly told the diocese officials that he did not recall any incidents between himself and the boy.
The diocese has denied having prior knowledge of any abuse by McFadden prior to 1991, and its officials said they acted quickly to remove him from service when they did become aware. In 2002, it first admitted to forcing the priest into retirement when officials became aware of the allegations. However, reportedly McFadden continued to hear confessions and give mass for years afterward in Sioux City, and then moved to Indiana, in part to escape the "sad situation" in Sioux City, according to a 2003 interview with an Indiana newspaper.
News reports of the time indicated that McFadden was sent to Maryland for treatment when the diocese became aware of the allegations, but that the incidents were not reported to police.
Although McFadden admitted committing "harmful acts," he never made a public apology to those he allegedly hurt, victim's advocate groups stress.
McFadden responded in a Des Moines Register interview that, "It's just an allegation and they keep chasing me. I've never been arrested or charged."