A source called Iowa City correspondent Ryan J. Foley with a tip: He had a shocking letter that he couldn’t share in which the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, acknowledged a priest admitted in 1986 that he had abused 50 boys in Iowa over 20 years. The diocese acknowledged in the letter it was still trying to keep the matter secret.
The source gave Foley the name of a New Mexico attorney who might be able to help, and after several phone calls and emails, Foley persuaded the attorney to provide a copy of the letter.
The letter – addressed to a couple with young children who had taken the priest into their home after he was in a car accident – certainly was stunning, as the diocese admitted the Rev. Jerome Coyle reported his pedophilia in 1986 but was simply shuffled to New Mexico for treatment. The diocese also offered to pay Coyle $600 more per month to keep him in New Mexico, warning that his desired return to Iowa would retraumatize his victims, now men aged 45 to 70.
Yet sources said he returned to Fort Dodge, Iowa, anyway and was being placed in a Catholic retirement home next to a K-12 school. Court records showed a search warrant had been served there days earlier.
Foley traveled to Fort Dodge with photographer Charlie Neibergall and, sure enough, found him there. The priest wouldn’t talk, but the trip nevertheless proved worthwhile, providing confirmation of his whereabouts.
Besides Neibergall’s photos of the retirement home, Foley obtained photos of the priest and an exclusive interview with the New Mexico father who had housed Coyle for months – unwittingly putting his own children at risk due to the church’s secrecy.
The diocese confirmed Foley’s story and acknowledged two adult victims had come forward in recent weeks with allegations against Coyle that would now be turned over to police. The 32-year coverup was over.
The reaction to Foley’s story was quick, with Coyle removed from the home. Foley’s report, used as the lead story by newspapers across the state, also led the Iowa attorney general’s office to launch an inquiry into the matter, and it led the diocese to not only apologize for its errors in dealing with Coyle but to promise to identify all priests who have faced credible allegations.
In a statement, the diocese said it was taking this action due to the continuing investigations of “the AP reporter.”
For breaking a story in vivid detail that had been kept hidden for decades, Foley wins this week’s Best of the States award.