success stories

A Success Story in Supporting Priests

Former Iowa governor leads campaign
to support Catholic priests

By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholic News Service

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is leading a statewide effort by Catholic lay people to show support for Iowa's Catholic priests.

The ad hoc group said it was soliciting donations for a full-page advertisement in the state's Sunday newspapers to express appreciation for the church and the many "good and loyal bishops and priests" and to counteract the impact of negative publicity surrounding priests following reports of clergy sexual abuse cases.

"In the near future, this impact may become larger if additional names become public in our four Iowa dioceses as a result of ongoing studies of the past 40 years of priest personnel records," the ad hoc group said in a letter titled "Support Our Iowa Priests."

"Should additional negative publicity occur, we believe it is critically important that we as lay people outwardly stand ready to support our good and loyal bishops and priests," the letter continued.

Branstad and his group said they feel extreme compassion for the victims of sexual abuse and their families. But they also feel compassion for priests who face negative stereotypes because of the unacceptable behavior of a few of them.

"I don't want priests to feel embarrassed or awkward about wearing the Roman collar. It's a symbol of dedication and service and it should be respected and emulated," Branstad told The Catholic Messenger, diocesan newspaper of Davenport.

Other friends and associates of Branstad, who now works as a financial advisor in Des Moines, agree and felt the ad campaign was the best way to demonstrate their support.

The Branstad group states in a letter to potential donors that its campaign is similar to one carried out by Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who is Catholic.

Branstad said the letter has been distributed to about 600 people throughout Iowa and more letters will be sent. This is just the start of the grass-roots effort that began in late August, he said.

Don Hauser, a retired business lobbyist and friend of Branstad who is helping with the fund-raising effort, said supporters hope to raise about $60,000.

"I called people I always worked with when I was lobbying and asked them for 15-20 names of business people in their communities" who might be willing to support the cause, Hauser said.

Jack Bush, a Davenport businessman, said he received a call from Branstad asking for his support and the names of others who might participate in the effort.

"He and his friends wanted a visible opportunity to show the state of Iowa that the Catholic lay people are in support of the clergy, realizing there are a few bad apples," he said.

Bush said he fully supports the effort, calling it "a real good move on the part of lay Catholics."

The campaign is strictly a laity-driven effort. Branstad said he called each bishop in the state to let them know what he wanted to do and to ensure there were no objections.

He said lay support for the campaign has been positive so far. He anticipates that the ads will run after the dioceses have completed reviews of their policies and clergy files.

The Serra Club of Davenport, which encourages and supports vocations, has agreed to accept donations because of its tax-exempt status.

Any proceeds raised above the cost of the ads will go toward encouraging vocations, Branstad said.