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  Diocese Faces 4th Abuse Lawsuit
A Davenport man says he was abused for years, starting when he was 5

By Ragsdale Shirley
Des Moines Register
September 19, 2003

A Davenport man filed a lawsuit this week, accusing the Rev. James Janssen, a Roman Catholic priest and the man's uncle, of sexual abuse.

James N. Wells made his name known in the lawsuit filed Tuesday against Janssen and the Davenport Diocese. The lawsuit alleges years of abuse, beginning when Wells was 5 years old, and details incidents where more than one priest was involved.

"It is important to appreciate the courage Wells is showing by being willing to have his name made public," said his attorney, Craig Levien. "The sexual abuse by priests has taken a heavy emotional toll on the victims. They lose their faith completely and turn to alcohol and drugs. It has destroyed men's lives."

The diocese on Thursday acknowledged the lawsuit, the fourth of its kind filed this year. Diocese officials said Janssen has been "fully retired since 1990 and does not have any diocesan duties." They declined to comment further.

Wells alleges that in 1990 he and his mother reported the abuse to the Rev. Michael Morrissey, another priest in the Davenport Diocese. The diocese did not properly investigate, take steps to prevent further sexual abuse by Janssen, report the allegations to law enforcement, or defrock him, according to the lawsuit.

Wells contends the diocese did not follow its written policy regarding sexual misconduct by priests.

"When the diocese adopted policies (covering sexual misconduct by priests) in 1990, there was an editorial in the Messenger, the diocese newspaper, saying that abuse hadn't happened here and that they hoped it doesn't happen here," Levien said. "That wasn't true, because Janssen's abuse had been reported at that time."

Levien said he believes that even though Janssen may be classified as retired, he has acted as a priest, saying Mass and presiding at funerals. It is Levien's understanding that Janssen is living in a priest retirement home in Davenport.

Wells alleges the abuse began in 1953, when he was about 5 years old, and continued until 1962. The lawsuit alleges that because Janssen gained Well's friendship, admiration and obedience, Wells was conditioned to comply with the priest's direction. On more than one occasion, before improper sexual acts with Wells, Janssen would tell the boy that it was to be "our secret," the lawsuit states.

Janssen sought and gained the trust of Wells' mother as well, gaining parental consent for Wells to accompany the priest on out-of-state trips and to a swimming pool where the sexual contact occurred, according to the lawsuit.

While Janssen was assigned as a priest in Fort Madison, he and another unnamed priest allegedly held card parties in the nude. The priests would invite Wells and other young boys to the parties and have them undress as well, the lawsuit said.

In the summer of 1962, Janssen took Wells and two or three other Fort Madison boys on a trip to Daytona Beach, Fla. On the way, Janssen picked up another priest. During the trip, Wells alleges that Janssen offered him to the other priest. Wells refused and when they returned from the trip, the sexual abuse ended, according to the lawsuit.

Court records show Janssen was an assistant pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Davenport in 1948. He was pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek from 1967 to 1979 and held other positions in Clinton County, at St. Irenaeus Parish in Clinton, St. Patrick's Parish in Delmar, St. Mary Parish in Bryant, and Saints Philip and James Parish in Grand Mound.

Janssen served as pastor in Davenport at St. Mary's and St. Anthony parishes, and other churches in Burlington. He also was a Boy Scout chaplain from 1980 to 1990, according to the lawsuit.

Four lawsuits

Four lawsuits alleging abuse by priests have been filed this year in the Davenport Diocese.

JANUARY: A Hamilton, Ill., man sued the diocese, alleging that the Rev. Martin Diamond, a priest for the Church of All Saints in Keokuk who is now deceased, sexually abused him in the late 1960s when he was a parish altar boy.

JULY: A Clinton County man filed a lawsuit against the Rev. James Janssen and the Diocese of Davenport, accusing the priest of molesting him when he was an altar boy in the Sugar Creek parish church in the 1960s.

JULY: A Burlington man sued Monsignor Drake Shafer, vicar general of the Davenport Diocese, and the diocese, alleging he was abused by Shafer when was a member of St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Fort Madison in 1972 and 1973.

SEPTEMBER: James N. Wells of Davenport accuses Janssen of years of abuse, beginning when Wells was about 5. He alleges the diocese did not follow its policy for handling such allegations when he reported the abuse in 1990.

 
 

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