The Diocese of Des Moines

Pope grants priest's request for laicization — 

Pope Francis granted Howard Fitzgerald’s request for a dispensation from the priesthood and the obligation of celibacy on Jan. 19 following a credible allegation that came to the attention of the Diocese of Des Moines last year regarding a decades-old case of sexual abuse.

“I personally met with Howard Fitzgerald and notified him of the Holy Father’s decision to grant his request for laicization. His laicization occurred at the moment of this notification,” said Bishop Pates. “I sent a memo to priests of the diocese and then left for several meetings out of town for the duration of the week. Now that I have returned to Des Moines, I would like to share further information with the people of the Diocese of Des Moines.”

Fitzgerald was placed on indefinite administrative leave last June and could not function publicly as a priest after the diocesan Allegation Review Committee deemed an allegation to be credible. Details of the allegation have not been released at the insistence of the victim. A press release was issued June 30, 2014, shortly after the Allegation Review Committee transmitted its recommendation to Bishop Richard Pates. All parishes in the diocese were notified of the situation, in particular those which he served.

Fitzgerald voluntarily petitioned Pope Francis to release him from the priesthood and sacred celibacy. The diocese has been advised by Fitzgerald’s counselor that he is no threat to broader society. He will be granted three months separation compensation and will have the opportunity to work at a secular job until retirement. He will have access to Social Security and retirement benefits of the diocese in which he is vested. He has indicated that he will be residing with family. Anyone wishing to contact Mr. Fitzgerald should do so through the Catholic Pastoral Center and the communication will be forwarded to him.

After the diocese learned of the allegation, the victim was provided the services of the diocesan Victim Assistance Advocate. Local law enforcement where the alleged abuse occurred and the Allegation Review Committee were immediately informed. 

Bishop Pates has apologized to the victim and encourages anyone who may have been sexually abused by clergy to contact diocesan Victim Assistance Advocate Sherry Knox. She is a staff member at Polk County Victim Services. She assists victims through the complaint process and in seeking support and counseling services. Knox can be reached at 515-286-2028 or

Bishop Pates said it is a top priority of the Diocese of Des Moines to provide a safe environment for children and to comply with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002 that offers a comprehensive set of guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, accountability, reports to a national board and mandatory education programs in parishes and schools.

Consejero sobre Asistencia de Victimas El Consejero sobre Asistencia de Víctimas es un empleado de Polk County Victim Services. Ella ayuda a víctimas de abuso sexual por parte del clero durante el proceso de la queja y buscando servicios de apoyo y consejería. Pueden comunicarse al 515-286-2028 o en