FORT DODGE, Iowa – A retired priest who lived for months next to a Roman Catholic school in Iowa moved out Thursday, hours after his history of sexually abusing boys became public knowledge following a 32-year cover-up.
The Rev. Jerome Coyle left the Marian Home in Fort Dodge, Iowa, according to a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Sioux City, who said an acquaintance had agreed to take him in.
The move follows an Associated Press story exposing the diocese's three-decade cover-up of abuse by Coyle, now 85, who was placed at the home this summer without the knowledge of nearby Saint Edmond Catholic School administrators or parents.
Also Thursday, the Iowa attorney general's office said it has opened an information-gathering inquiry into the handling of clergy abuse. Attorney General Tom Miller said that he was appalled by cases of abuse and cover-up that had been documented in Pennsylvania and "cases in Iowa that have gone unreported."
Coyle admitted in 1986 that he sexually abused approximately 50 boys over 20 years while serving at several Iowa parishes , according to the Sioux City diocese, which never told the public until Wednesday.
The diocese transferred Coyle to a treatment center in New Mexico and stripped him of his parish assignments. He lived and worked in New Mexico for decades as a civilian.
Coyle moved in with a Catholic family in Albuquerque after suffering injures in a car accident last year. The diocese revealed what Nickless called Coyle's "past transgressions" in a February letter to the family warning that it was too risky to allow him to live with their three teenage children.
The diocese eventually moved Coyle in June into the Marian Home, an assisted living center. It's across the street from Saint Edmond, which has hundreds of students from kindergarten through high school.
In a video and letter to parishioners issued Wednesday, Nickless claimed that the diocese moved Coyle back to Iowa "because of his advanced age and frail condition."
But in February, a diocese review board that includes Nickless sought to discourage Coyle from returning, warning that his presence could traumatize his now-adult victims and that the move would be difficult due to his age. The diocese told the family housing him that the best option was to find Coyle an assisted living center there, and that it would increase his monthly assistance by $575 to help.
Nickless claimed Wednesday that Coyle was under "strict supervision" at the Marian Home. AP journalists didn't see signs of that when visiting Coyle's apartment Friday, where he answered the door and declined comment.
The diocese acknowledged that school administrators weren't informed about Coyle's past when he was placed there.
In a letter to parents, school President Mary Gibb wrote that she was "deeply sorry" they had learned of the situation through news reports. She said that none of the students had contact with Coyle during visits to the Marian Home because they do not go to the area where he lived.
"The safety of our students is and will always be my #1 priority," wrote Gibb, who declined comment when contacted about Coyle last week.
Coyle reported his abuse to then-Bishop Lawrence Soens, who hung up when reached at a retirement home Thursday.
Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for Iowa's attorney general, said his office doesn't have the legal authority to conduct a statewide investigative grand jury like one that recently found 300 "predator priests" had abused 1,000 children in Pennsylvania. But he said the office is gathering information and examining options for moving forward. His office called on Iowa dioceses to comply with a U.S. Department of Justice request to preserve documents related to abuse and personnel.
Miller has already met with Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates and plans to meet with other bishops in coming weeks. His office invited victims of clergy abuse who want to provide information about their experiences to get in touch.