Bishop Accountability

Diocese ordered to release 50 years of records
The ruling comes in a civil lawsuit over alleged sexual misconduct by priests

By Mark Siebert
Des Moines Register
December 3, 2003

A Clinton County judge has ordered the Diocese of Davenport to turn over 50 years' worth of documents relating to possible sexual misconduct by priests.

Diocese officials initially resisted the disclosure, saying they wanted to protect the privacy of parishioners.

However, Judge C.H. Pelton ruled the disclosure could be made and confidentiality maintained.

The ruling was made in a civil lawsuit brought against the diocese and Father James Janssen by a plaintiff only identified as "John Doe."

Craig Levien, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said the ruling would -for the first time -give parishioners and the public an idea of the extent of the problem facing the church.

"I think it will show how the diocese dealt with the problem of complaints made against priests who were accused of sexually abusing children," Levien said Tuesday.

Levien said the disclosure might also show how priests were reassigned after complaints of sexual abuse were made against them.

The Davenport diocese has been criticized for its response to lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests. Diocese officials said in a statement Tuesday that their intent was to protect privacy.

"The Diocese of Davenport is acting to protect the innocent, the confidentiality of victims who may have requested to remain anonymous and all of our children while assisting victims of abuse in accord with diocesan policy," the statement said.

Judge Pelton asked both sides to study the order and submit motions to reconsider.

The diocese is reviewing the order but has not decided whether to ask for modifications, said diocese attorney Rand Wonio.

Wonio also said the diocese was still studying the impact of the ruling on a nationwide study of abuse by Catholic clergy.

All 159 U.S. Catholic dioceses have been asked to report the number of incidents, offenders and victims of sexual abuse of minors between 1950 and 2002.

The reports were due last month to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But the Davenport diocese has not turned in a report, saying it had conflicting directives on whether or not documents used in compiling the survey should be destroyed.

The judge gave the diocese until Jan. 16 to make a good-faith response to the records request. The names of priests will be included, but names of alleged victims and their families will be edited out, the judge said.

Reporter Mark Siebert can be reached at (515) 284-8127 or


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.