Vicar Confessed in E-Mail to Alleged Victim
The Davenport Diocese Wants to Dismiss a Lawsuit Filed Last Year
By Erin Jordan
Des Moines Register [United States]
March 20, 2004
Fort Madison, Ia. - The Davenport Catholic diocese's second-ranking official, whose job before he was suspended last summer included investigating abuse complaints against other priests, admitted in an e-mail to his own misdeeds with a teenage boy 30 years ago.
Part of the e-mail from Monsignor Drake Shafer to the alleged abuse victim was read in court Friday, during a hearing on the diocese's effort to dismiss a lawsuit.
Shafer, the Davenport Diocese's vicar general, was placed on leave in July until allegations against him are resolved. In his job as vicar general, one of the diocese's top administrative jobs, Shafer was responsible for investigating allegations against other priests.
Shafer wrote in an April 5, 2002, e-mail to the alleged sexual abuse victim that the incident in the 1970s "was the only time in my priesthood when anything remotely like it happened."
Shafer acknowledged getting drunk on the night in question and said he had been abused by a priest himself when he was a child.
"I did not intend to abuse you that night or any other," he wrote. "I hope you know that our friendship at that time meant a lot to me and I would never have wanted to hurt you in any way and I am so sorry that I did."
A West Burlington man identified as John Doe claims in his lawsuit filed June 27, 2003, that Shafer abused him in 1973 or 1974. The lawsuit was filed against Shafer, the Davenport Diocese and St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Fort Madison where Shafer was a priest. Doe was 14 or 15 at the time.
Shafer denied the allegation when the lawsuit was filed last year. His e-mail, introduced during Friday's hearing at the Lee County Courthouse, was written more than a year earlier.
David Montgomery, spokesman for the Davenport Diocese, referred inquiries to diocese attorney Rand Wonio, who did not return phone calls. In a February diocese report on the extent of child abuse by priests, Bishop William E. Franklin said the diocese sexual abuse review board was investigating allegations against Shafer.
Until last month, Davenport had been labeled one of the most uncooperative dioceses in the nation in making public information about misdeeds by priests amid nationwide disclosures of decades of abuse and coverups. In February, the eastern Iowa diocese issued a candid report that named priests and detailed previous bishops" errors in returning suspected abusers to the ministry.
Attorneys for the church and Shafer on Friday asked Judge John G. Linn to dismiss the case because it was filed too late to meet the two-year statute of limitations.
Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin, who is representing Doe, said the statute should be waived because post-traumatic stress disorder caused her client to suppress the memory until 2002.
Conlin argued that the case should not be dismissed before a jury can decide Shafer's guilt.
"I did many things wrong that night 27 years ago," Shafer wrote in the e-mail. "I should never have allowed you and I to be in that situation. I should never have had anything to drink that night and I drank to excess and doing so put you in danger.
"I should have talked to you about this long ago," Shafer wrote. "Deep shame and denial that I may have acted contrary to who I believe I really am prevented me and caused, I now know, further hurt to you."
Shafer told Doe that he, too, had been abused by a priest when he was a boy. "It went on from 9 to 12-years-old," Shafer wrote. "I never told anyone then that it happened and that priest is dead now for many years."
Shafer said in the e-mail that he knew admitting to the incident would likely end his life as a priest. "I share all of this not because I am trying to keep you from doing whatever you believe you must do, but because I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for it."
The lawsuit against Shafer is one of 14 filed against the Davenport diocese alleging abuse. In February, the diocese said it would remove five priests from the ministry after an investigation of 50 years of records revealed evidence of sexual abuse of children or possession of child pornography by the men. Shafer was not among the five priests named.
Although Shafer was not named in Doe's lawsuit, Shafer released his name shortly after the lawsuit was filed and has been on paid leave since.
Shafer wrote the e-mail to Doe in response to an e-mail from Doe on April 1, 2002, Conlin said.
"It's not been an easy task when not a day goes by that I don't think about that night in a hotel room when a very young man was taken advantage of," Doe wrote to Shafer. "Will these thoughts of abuse ever go away?"
Attorneys for the diocese and Shafer said Doe's e-mail discredits his claim that he had suppressed the memory of alleged abuse and recalled it only in 2002.
"The plaintiff admits he has known about the incident for 27 years," said Robert McMonagle, attorney for the diocese.
Iowa law allows people with a diagnosed mental illness an extension in filing lawsuits beyond the ordinary statute of limitations.
However, defense attorneys said therapists who diagnosed Doe did not state in affidavits that Doe had been mentally ill since the time of the alleged abuse.
"Mental illness must be so severe that it disables one from filing a lawsuit," said Peter Fieweger, Shafer's attorney. "Since 1972-1973, Mr. Doe has been married twice, had three children, been in the armed forces and carried on gainful employment. That is not the history of someone so mentally ill he is disabled from filing a lawsuit."
Linn said he would rule on the motion in four to six weeks.
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