Diocese Visit Helps Local Church

By Charlene Bielema
Herald [Grand Mound IA]
January 22, 2004

GRAND MOUND - Upset with what they believe to be a lack of communication on the part of the Diocese of Davenport concerning sexual abuse allegations against a priest, Sts. Philip and James Catholic Church's Parish Council drew up a letter to the diocese to detail their concerns.

What they received was a surprise visit Sunday from the Most Rev. William Franklin, bishop of the Diocese of Davenport. His visit led to a two-hour meeting with parishioners that has developed a sense of optimism on the part of parishioners.

"It surprised and shocked us," parish council president Neil Mason said Wednesday about Franklin's visit. He said the visit left parish members feeling "much better" and with the hope that communication about sexual abuse allegations affecting the parish will become much more open.

The diocese currently is facing four Clinton County lawsuits that allege sexual abuse by priests. The concern with the Grand Mound parish arose after a lawsuit was filed in November by Donald Green of DeWitt, one of the church's current members, who says he was sexually abused by the Rev. James Janssen of Davenport. Janssen served at the parish from 1980 to 1990.

After the lawsuit was filed, Green met with the parish council to ask for its support. At the same time, parish leaders say, the diocese was failing to follow its own sexual misconduct policy to help support the parish and the hurt in the congregation.

"At no time were we offered a parish meeting with diocesan officials or otherwise for a more complete discussion of the complaint," a letter from the parish to Franklin states. "And at no time were any followup procedures established to assess the ongoing impact of the disclosures in our parish."

The parish council created the letter to send to Franklin on Monday detailing the need for information and services from the Diocese of Davenport that the diocese has listed as key in healing the pain being experienced within the parish.

The letter states the diocese is not following its Sexual Misconduct Policy that calls for parish and staff meetings, information to be passed to key personnel about the accusation, followup and an announcement of the accusation against the former minister.

The parish also stated the diocese is not following a charter approved by the United States Bishops in 2002 in which communication would be open when a parish deals with sexual abuse issues.

The letter also asked that Franklin respond to the congregation by Feb. 2.

They received a response much sooner. After learning of the letter, which was distributed to the media this week, Franklin decided to make a visit to the church to celebrate Mass and listen as the letter was read to the congregation.

Franklin was not available for comment this morning, but Mason said the visit is considered to be the response that the congregation is seeking.

"I think it is going to help a great deal," Mason said.