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Abusive priest, from Iowa, dies in St. Louis-area hospice


St. Louis, MO – A defrocked Catholic priest from Iowa who had admitted abusing minors died last week at a St. Louis-area hospice. That's according to the diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

William Wiebler had lived in University City for the last two years, after voluntarily leaving a Missouri treatment center. The Iowa diocese says he died Friday of heart complications at hte age of 78.

He was to be cremated Thursday, his ashes buried in his birthplace of Fort Madison, Iowa., according to diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery. He also asked not to have a funeral Mass, a traditional Roman Catholic rite of the dead.

Wiebler was laicized, or defrocked, in January at the request of Davenport Bishop William Franklin over credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors, Montgomery said. That meant he could no longer function as a priest.

News of Wiebler's death was to be announced in the Davenport diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Messenger, on Thursday.

Wiebler had admitted abusing several minors during the 1970s and 1980s but had no criminal record. All the allegations against him fell outside the Iowa statute of limitations.

Craig Levien, a lawyer in Davenport who represented 10 of Wiebler's victims in lawsuits, said Wednesday that Wiebler was an admitted abuser and that "children are safer after his passing."

In addition to reaching settlements with the diocese, two of Levien's clients pursued financial judgments against Wiebler personally.

Levien said Wiebler often did not show up for those court hearings and default judgments were entered against him. "He was totally uncooperative in legal matters," he said.

Levien didn't know whether the victims would try to tap into Wiebler's estate, or even if there is one.

In 2004, the Diocese of Davenport paid $9 million to settle sexual abuse claims from 37 victims involving a number of accused priests, including Wiebler. The settlement freed the diocese from any responsibility involving those cases.

In October 2002, Wiebler was ordered by his bishop into treatment at the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer but left two years later. He was ordered to return but didn't go back, Montgomery said.

Instead, he settled into an apartment in University City, and soon after, Levien and members of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests leafleted his neighborhood, warning families of the danger he posed. "The last time I saw him he was in the rear deck of his University City apartment in his bathrobe," Levien said. "He had a smiley face balloon on his deck. It was eerie."

Wiebler was ordained in 1955 and served in the diocese for 30 years. He moved out of state and took other jobs, including that of an editor. He retired from the diocese in 1991. Attempts to reach family members were unsuccessful. A sister-in-law in Fort Madison declined to comment.