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  Diocese Official Settles Abuse Lawsuit

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times [Davenport IA]
April 13, 2005

The vicar general, who holds one of the top administrative positions in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport, has settled a 2003 lawsuit filed against him by a man alleging sexual abuse more than 30 years ago, attorneys for the two sides confirmed Tuesday.

A trial in the Lee County, Iowa, lawsuit filed against Monsignor Drake Shafer was scheduled to begin Monday, but the county court administrator’s office said Tuesday it has been notified that the case was settled last week.

The settlement has not been filed in district court, but the plaintiff’s attorney, Craig Levien, and Shafer’s attorney, Peter Fieweger, confirmed that it has been reached.

"Drake Shafer agreed to pay the cost of past mental health counseling (for the plaintiff)," Levien said. "I’m not going to release the amount."

When contacted by the QUAD-CITY TIMES, Fieweger declined comment on any settlement until it has been finalized and filed with the district court.

The settlement is the first in which a priest from the diocese has agreed to make a payment in addition to a $9 million settlement reached by the diocese with dozens of sexual abuse plaintiffs in October, Levien said.

The plaintiff, a West Burlington man identified only as "John Doe" in court documents, decided it was not in the best interest of his personal mental health to relive the abuse while pursuing the case in court, based on the settlement he was able to reach with the diocese and Shafer, Levien said.

Doe contends in his lawsuit that Shafer abused him when he was 14 or 15 years old in 1973 or 1974. Shafer has denied the allegation.

Shafer’s job as vicar general, the second-in-command at the diocese behind Bishop William Franklin, included investigating abuse allegations against other priests. He went on administrative leave during July 2003 until allegations against him of sexual abuse dating to the 1970s could be resolved.

"It is our understanding our diocese will undertake an investigation and take appropriate action against Drake Shafer," Levien said.

Diocese spokesman David Montgomery told the Times he had not heard about the settlement and declined comment until he receives more information.

Shafer served at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Fort Madison; Sacred Heart in Clinton and St. Ambrose University in Davenport before being appointed vicar general in July 2000.

The lawsuit against him had also named the diocese as a defendant, but it was dropped from the case as part of the $9 million settlement reached last fall by church leaders and 37 people claiming sexual abuse.

Levien said Doe’s case against Shafer contained an "e-mail that is an admission of serious misconduct" that was read aloud during a court hearing when the diocese asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit in March 2004.

Shafer’s April 5, 2002, e-mail to the alleged victim states that the incident "was the only time in my priesthood when anything remotely like it happened."

The diocese said an e-mail message from Doe to Shafer shows the plaintiff has known on a daily basis for 27 years about any injuries and their cause.

The judge sent the case toward a jury trial by ruling that reasonable minds could differ on the interpretation of that e-mail as well as when Doe remembered the alleged abuse and discovered the nexus between that and his claims of injury.

According to the ruling denying the attempt by the diocese to dismiss the case, Doe’s e-mail message referenced a "night in a hotel room when a very young man was taken advantage of." It also stated that "For approximately twenty-seven years, I have ask (sic) God to help me with an issue I’ve had to live with."

 
 

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