Diocese Face Another Lawsuit
By Todd Ruger
A Scott County man filed a lawsuit Tuesday that claims three priests in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport repeatedly sexually abused him for years beginning about 40 years ago, when he was younger than 14.
The former altar boy and a confirmed Catholic, identified only as “John Doe III,” seeks unspecified emotional and punitive damages from The Rev. James Janssen, The Rev. Francis Bass, Theodore Geerts and the Diocese of Davenport.
It is the third sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Janssen and the fifth against the Diocese of Davenport in the wake of numerous cases of past sex abuse by Catholic priests that surfaced nationwide since last year, causing American Catholic bishops to revise the church’s sex abuse policies.
Bass and Geerts are not named in any other lawsuits filed in Iowa, court records show.
“The three priests do not have any diocesan duties,” Diocese spokesman David Montgomery said in a press release Thursday in response to media inquiries. “The Diocese is reviewing the complaint. It would not be appropriate to discuss this matter while it is in litigation.”
The diocese will continue to respond to such matters in line with a charter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and policies recognized by the Vatican, the release continued.
Civil lawsuits now name seven priests from the Diocese of Davenport in allegations of sexual abuse, including the second-ranking official at the diocese, Vicar General Drake Shafer, and a deceased priest, The Rev. Martin Diamond.
The diocese and all priests have denied the claims.
The latest lawsuit claims Janssen sought and gained parental consent for “John Doe III” — confirmed member of the St. Joseph Parish in Fort Madison, Iowa — to participate in counseling and other activities during which “immoral sexual contacts” would occur.
“Before improper sexual contacts with (John Doe III), defendant Janssen would state, ‘Do you trust me’ and proceed to make increasing overt and direct sexual contact with (John Doe III),” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit claims Janssen and Bass separately engaged in sexual group activities with John Doe III, as well as Geerts showing pornographic movies and magazines that he kept locked in a double door cabinet in the St. Boniface Church retory basement in Farmington, Iowa.
The diocese either knew or should have known of the improper sexual abuse and did not act to prevent further abuse, the lawsuit claims.
Janssen held his first leadership position in the Davenport Diocese in 1948, when he became assistant pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Davenport, the lawsuit states.
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.
Bass was an associate pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Clinton from 1948 to 1957 and at St. Joseph parish in Davenport from 1957 to 1966, and a pastor at six churches through 1992 in the Diocese of Davenport, including St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar and St. Anne’s Parish in Welton, the lawsuit states.
Geerts was an associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Parish in Clinton from 1948 to 1961 and a pastor at St. Boniface Parish in Farmington from 1963 to 1969, the lawsuit states. He was “absent on leave” from 1971 to 1986, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit was filed by attorney Craig Levien, who also represents men
in two similar lawsuits filed against Janssen and the diocese.
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