Bishop Accountability
 
  Diocese Faces Abuse Lawsuit
The Davenport Vicar General Identifies Himself As the Priest Accused of Abusing a Parishioner

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
July 18, 2003

The second-ranking official in the Davenport Catholic diocese has taken a leave of absence and on Wednesday acknowledged that he has been accused in a lawsuit of sexual molestation.

Monsignor Drake Shafer, vicar general of the Davenport diocese, identified himself as the priest at St. Mary of the Assumption in Fort Madison in 1972 and 1973. That's the time period noted in a lawsuit filed June 27 against the diocese by an unnamed plaintiff.

Shafer has denied the allegations, but is on a leave of absence while the diocese conducts an investigation, according to a news release issued by the diocese.

In the lawsuit, a West Burlington man alleges that he was abused by his priest when he was 14 or 15.

The lawsuit says the plaintiff was raised in a devout Catholic family and attended weekly worship services and church activities at St. Mary's. It says the boy developed admiration, trust, reverence and respect for the priest and saw him as a "holy man and authority figure."

The lawsuit alleges the priest "engaged in unpermitted, harmful and offensive sexual contact . . . sexual assault, battery and other crimes" against the boy. It alleges that the priest "suffers from a mental disease or defect that renders him unable to control his conduct in connection with his sexual behavior toward boys and children."

Roxanne Barton Conlin, the Des Moines lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said the petition did not identify the plaintiff or the priest, although both will be identified if the case goes to trial.

She said she was "pretty infuriated" that Shafer identified himself.

"Ordinarily, we would name the offending priest," she said. "In this case we did not do so, at the request of the priest's counsel. Then he did it anyway and denied the conduct."

As vicar general, Shafer is the chief administrative assistant for the diocese and second in command to Bishop William Franklin. Shafer declined to comment on Thursday.

Chuck Yanacheak, a member of the pastoral council at Fort Madison's Saints Mary and Joseph Catholic Church, said Shafer is well thought of in the diocese.

Yanacheak said his first reaction to the allegation is one of sadness.

Then, Yanacheak said: "It is very disheartening and a heck of a black eye for the church. It's very embarrassing."

Diocesan policies call for removal of diocesan employees from any possible contact with children when an allegation first arises, pending a resolution of the allegations and the outcome of the diocese's investigation.

Under the Davenport diocese's new sexual misconduct policy, a priest accused of such charges would not be put on leave until the claim was substantiated or it appeared it could be substantiated.

Shafer also taught at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and was a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Clinton. In May, a Clinton County man who served as an altar boy at St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek accused the Rev. James Janssen of molesting him, beginning in 1967. Janssen retired in 1990 and no longer has any diocesan duties.

In March, the Rev. Richard Poster was indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged receipt and possession of child pornography. Poster was accused of downloading pornographic photos on a diocesan computer. Poster is on administrative leave, reportedly living in the Chicago area awaiting an August trial. He was director of liturgy for the Davenport diocese and associate publisher of the Catholic Messenger, the diocese's newspaper.

 
 

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