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  Diocese Labeled One of Worst for Abuse Coverup

By Todd Ruger truger@qctimes.com
Quad-City Times [Davenport IA]
May 21, 2004

A national organization for victims of priest sexual abuse cited documents filed last week in ranking the Catholic Diocese of Davenport among the worst in the nation for documented cover-up of sex abuse by priests.

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"Itís not that often we find this level of concealment," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

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In a press conference outside the diocesan headquarters Thursday afternoon, Blaine held up placards showing diocese documents filed as part of civil lawsuits against the diocese.

"They actually engaged in a scheme to keep it silent," Blaine said while pointing to a 1958 document signed by then-Bishop Ralph Hayes and a 1988 letter from the Rev. Michael Morrissey to James Wells, who reported abuse by the Rev. James Janssen to the church.

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The documents come from the court files of two men who allege sexual misconduct by priests in lawsuits against the diocese. The men responded to diocesan attempts to dismiss their cases with nearly 300 pages of legal arguments and church documents.

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Blaine said the 1988 letter from Morrissey to Wells shows a lack of pastoral care or interest in wanting to pursue an investigation into Wellsí allegations of sexual abuse by Janssen.

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"The silence and secrecy has gone on for what we now know is five decades," she said, referring to the 1958 document where diocese Chancellor Maurice Dingman signed a statement that he will "maintain secrecy regarding all facts" of Janssenís case.

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Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said the documents were kept and maintained in the diocese, not destroyed.

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"Theyíre seeing the light of day and thatís fine with the diocese," he said, adding that the Dingman document is "part and parcel with (Janssenís) suspension in 1958, according to canon law at that time."

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Earlier this year, the Iowa Supreme Court denied a request from the diocese to appeal a district judgeís order that it provide records of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests for the past 50 years.

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Blaine also called for current Bishop William Franklin to suspend and punish Morrissey, currently a vicar general.

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She said the documents show Morrissey knew about sex rings involving three priests and several boys but did nothing about it.

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"If Bishop Franklin is concerned about children, he must show it," she said. To protect children, Franklin must bring "a new era of openness and transparency."

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Wonio said he never heard that Morrissey knew of a sex ring, and the diocese made a full report of all sexual abuse allegations against its priests in February.

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"I think that is just not true," he said. "Iím sorry, but two SNAP members in Chicago are not going to make personnel issues for the diocese."

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Wonio said the review included the actions taken by supervisors.

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"Those actions are pretty thoroughly reported," he said. "All of those actions were certainly reviewed."

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The diocese report listed suspensions and disciplinary actions against Janssen, who has denied all allegations in court records.

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Diocese spokesman the Rev. David Montgomery referred all questions to Wonio.

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Blaine said SNAP, a nationwide group, knows of about 25 victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Davenport diocese.

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An all-day court battle on whether two of the 15 civil lawsuits filed against the diocese should continue in court is scheduled for June 3.

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The diocese argues that those cases were filed after the statute of limitations expired.

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Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or truger@qctimes.com.