Priest Accused of Abuse
By Kay Luna
CLINTON, Iowa — A Clinton County man filed a civil lawsuit this week against a retired Catholic priest from the Diocese of Davenport, accusing the priest of molesting him as an altar boy in the Sugar Creek parish church in the 1960s.
The plaintiff, known only in court records as “John Doe,” accused retired Rev. James Janssen of beginning the repeated abuse in 1967, when Janssen was assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek. The plaintiff was younger than 14 at the time.
The lawsuit claims Janssen prefaced the repeated sex acts that happened in the church rectory and other sites with, “This is how we build trust.”
The plaintiff also claims the priest took him and other minors to an adult triple-X movie theater in Clinton to watch an explicit movie, and encouraged him and others to shoplift during an out-of-state trip.
Rev. David Montgomery, spokesman for the Diocese of Davenport, said Janssen retired in 1990 and no longer has any diocesan duties.
“The diocese is reviewing the complaint that was received on May 20,” Montgomery said in a written statement. “It would not be appropriate to comment further.”
Montgomery said the diocese has worked with the plaintiff to “pastorally resolve problems that were alleged to have occurred over 35 years ago,” and will continue to respond to these matters in line with guidelines handed down by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican.
The lawsuit claims the diocese knew, or should have known, about the sexual abuse and failed to take action against Janssen. The abuse caused the victim great psychological distress, and according to the lawsuit, he did not discover the extent of this injury until his “complete mental and emotional breakdown requiring hospitalization” in November 2001.
Court records show Janssen, an ordained Catholic priest, held his first leadership position in the Davenport Diocese in 1948, when he became assistant pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Davenport.
He served as pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek from 1967 to 1979. Janssen also held other positions in Clinton County over the years, including St. Irenaeus Parish in Clinton, St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar, St. Mary Parish in Bryant, and Ss. Philip and James Parish in Grand Mound.
He also served as pastor in Davenport at St. Mary’s and St. Anthony parishes, and other churches in Burlington, East Pleasant Plain, Fort Madison, Holbrook and Newton. His last diocesan job in Grand Mound ended in 1990.
The lawsuit claims the diocese was aware of sex abuse allegations against Janssen during his time as assistant pastor from 1961 to 1967 in Fort Madison. Instead of taking action against Janssen, diocese leaders reassigned him to Sugar Creek, the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff is expected to remain anonymous in court proceedings. His attorney, Craig A. Levien of Davenport, wrote in a court motion that his client continues to live in Clinton County with his family, and releasing his identity “would serve no purpose other than attempt to intimidate and further injure the plaintiff.”
An affidavit filed with the lawsuit states that the diocese referred the plaintiff to a psychologist as a result of his complaints about abuse. Dr. Deborah VanSpeybroeck began treating the man in June 2002, and his last visit was in October 2002.
The psychologist said in the affidavit that the diocese has agreed to
pay for some of the man’s counseling as a result of the alleged
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