James M. Janssen

Summary of Case: Janssen has been accused of abusing many boys with Bass, Geerts, and Murphy, and of pimping his victims to Bass, Wiebler, and Murphy. He denies all accusations. Janssen allegedly used sacrilege and petty crime to groom his victims, and sometimes took them out of state to abuse them. Janssen's "stable of boys" ranged in ages from 5 to 18. He continued to abuse at least one into his twenties, and he kept in touch with several into their adulthood. The diocese was warned about Janssen in 1948 before his first assignment, and he confessed to Bishop Hayes in 1958. Yet he worked as a priest for 42 years in 14 parishes (one in the Joliet IL diocese), and was pastor at 4 of them for a total of 23 years. He was on the Priests' Personnel Board for 13 years, served a term on the Priests' Senate, and was diocesan chaplain of the Boy Scouts for 10 years. He was laicized in 2004.

: 11/5/22
Birthplace: Davenport
Ordained: 3/19/48
Seminary: Kenrick Seminary, St. Louis MO
Incardinated: Davenport for entire career; worked in the Joliet diocese for a year (1957-58); received counselling in the Dubuque archdiocese.
Retired: 11/5/91
Laicized: 7/28/04

Photo taken about 1980. Photo taken 1980-90 at Sts. Philip & James, Grand Mound IA  

Resources: Many of the articles in our News and Views are about Janssen. See especially the bio that appeared in the diocesan newspaper when Janssen was transferred to his last parish, where he allegedly abused boys and showed them pornographic videos; Quad-City Times reporter Todd Ruger's Rev. James Janssen -- Records Reveal a Life on the Move; Des Moines Register religion reporter Shirley Ragsdale's Iowa Church Officials for Years Hid Allegations of Sexual Abuse (with its Timeline linked to the documents); and two harrowing accounts {1} {2} by former altar boys at St. Joseph's church in Fort Madison. The only writing sample that we have from Janssen is his vulgar and revealing letter to a victim; see also a letter from the victim to him, with an Illinois pastor's description of the letters' discovery and his own naïve assessment of them. Janssen was briefly suspended, and then-Chancellor Dingman swore to keep Janssen's abuse a secret. We see in Davenport the outcome of that secrecy, according to Fr. Tom Doyle.

Start Stop Parish Town / Abuse State Position / Colleagues Notes
4/8/48 8/48 St. Bridget's Victor IA Assistant. It seems from the Official Catholic Directory that there was some trouble with the pastor right after Janssen's brief stint in Victor. Rev. Edward A. Cone was pastor and sole priest in the 1948 Directory. In the 1949 Directory, Cone is listed as pastor with Revs. "Aloysius V. Hauber, Administrator, Martin B. Manning." In the 1950 Directory, Hauber is pastor and Manning is assistant. Cone is not indexed in the 1950-51 Directories, but the Davenport pages list him as Absent on Leave at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, a small Trappist monastery in Huntsville UT. Grade school with 77 pupils and high school with 33 pupils. Janssen is not listed as being here in the Directory because the assignment was brief.
8/48 5/18/50 St. Paul's

Burlington IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastors were Rt. Rev. Msgr. Walter E. Cullinan, who left to become dean of Ottumwa at St. Mary of the Visitation, and Rev. Henry J. Corcoran, who was also 1 of 4 diocesan Parish Priest Consultors. Grade school had 161 pupils, and St. Paul's Central High School had 136.
5/18/50 7/9/53 St. Irenaeus


A boy at the diocesan St. Vincent's Orphanage alleges that he and other boys there were abused during this period while swimming unsupervised with Janssen at St. Ambrose Academy.
IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Rev. E.F. Jackson, who was also 1 of 4 diocesan Parish Priest Consultors. Grade school (bottom picture at left, dated 1913) had 183 pupils in 1950-51. A letter from a YMCA official in diocesan files says that Janssen "had been moved out [of Clinton] as a result of homosexual tendencies." The letter implies that some of these activities took place at the Clinton YMCA.
7/9/53 8/16/53 St. Joseph's East Pleasant Plain

The abuse of the boys from the diocesan orphanage continued in this period.
IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Rev. Paul C. Wetzstein. Chancellor Dingman wrote of Janssen's "obsession against the place" because Janssen didn't have access to "youth" who were his "primary interest." "There must be something going on." After a fruitless pep-talk from Bishop Hayes, Janssen was put briefly on leave. Janssen is not listed as being here in the Directory because the assignment was brief.
7/9/53 8/16/53 St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Richland IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Wetzstein. Mission attended from St. Joseph in East Pleasant Plain. A mission is a small church without a priest, staffed from a nearby parish.
7/9/53 8/16/53 Immaculate Conception

Polishville IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Wetzstein. Mission attended from St. Joseph in East Pleasant Plain
8/16/53 12/6/53 Whereabouts unknown, but spent time in Chicago and probably in Davenport • James N. Wells describes how his uncle Janssen began to abuse him on Thanksgiving Day 1953, when the boy was 5 years old. Janssen was under suspension at the time. The abuse would continue during Janssen's various assignments until 1962.   Leave of absence  
12/7/53 11/13/56 Sacred Heart


• A victim's account of being abused, and of how Janssen used petty crime to groom his victims. Janssen was transferred from Newton after 4 families complained about him.

The abuse of the boys from the diocesan orphanage continued until the middle of this assignment.
IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Rev. Thomas J. McCann, who on 10/21/55 admitted having heard rumors about Janssen's conduct, but asked Bishop Hayes to follow up on a police inquiry about a morals charge against Janssen at the Newton YMCA. This assignment ended after Janssen was arrested for shoplifting in Des Moines, and after unsolicited complaints conveyed by YMCA officials on 11/2/56. (1, 2)
11/9/56 6/6/58 Loyola University


IL "Indefinite leave of absence" Put on leave by Bishop Hayes and expelled from the diocese in response to complaints from YMCA officials. Janssen's therapists at the Loyola Center for Guidance and Psychological Service told Hayes that Janssen needed psychotherapy and subsequent frequent meetings with a spiritual director.
11/56 6/58 St. Isaac Jogues


Account by a St. Isaac Jogues parochial school student of abuse that began while Janssen was assigned to this parish. Photos show the boy when the abuse had just begun (A) and later (B) when his "sense of religion" was "for the most part gone." When the victim's mother discovered obscene letters between the boy (C) and Janssen (D) and gave them to the parish priest, the priest wrote to Hayes, and Janssen was suspended from his new position at Holbrook (see next entry).
IL Work with "the boy scouts and the teenagers"

Davenport incardination but working in Joliet IL diocese (the bishop there was Martin D. McNamara). A letter in Davenport diocesan files from Fr. Martin A. Henehan, pastor of St. Isaac Jogues, states that Bishop Hayes knew about the Hinsdale appointment.
6/6/58 10/3/58 St. Michael's


The alleged abuse of the Hinsdale altar boy (previous entry) continued through the summer that Janssen was in Holbrook. The boy cut grass at the church and his parents even visited.

By the time Janssen was pulled from Holbrook, he had taken a group of Boy Scouts from Iowa (including his nephew James Wells) on trips to view corpses at the Cook County Morgue (para. 3). The Wells family moved to Davenport in 1958; abuse that had happened 6-8 times a year now became more frequent.
IA Substitute pastor Janssen was assigned to serve alone at Holbrook. A Loyola therapist wrote again to Hayes during this solitary assignment to ask whether Hayes had named a spiritual director for Janssen, and Hayes said no. This assignment ended when Janssen's abuse of a boy in his previous Hinsdale IL assignment was revealed to the pastor by the boy's mother and Hayes was informed. (1, 2, 3) Hayes acknowledged receipt.
10/3/58 1/26/59 Abbey of Our Lady of New Melleray

Dubuque IA Indefinite suspension as "vindictive penalty." The abbot was Rt. Rev. Dom Philip O'Connor, O.C.S.O. Hayes interviewed Janssen and Janssen "confessed his guilt"; Hayes suspended him; and Chancellor Dingman swore to keep the case secret. From the abbey, Janssen confirmed his guilt and begged for mercy; Hayes consulted Abbot O'Connor; the abbot replied favorably (summary by Davenport diocese, p. 3).
1/22/59 6/25/59 St. Patrick's


James Wells and an altar boy at St. Joseph's in Davenport (where Bass worked 1957-66) were allegedly abused by Janssen during his time in Delmar.
IA Vicar ecomone (administrator) Appointed to Delmar with restrictions.
6/25/59 6/29/61 St. Mary's Davenport

Account of sexual abuse at a cabin on the Mississippi in 1960, and the indifference of Loftus and Franklin when the victim came forward in 2002.
IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Rev. James J. Hopkins; he visited Chancellor Dingman on 1/10/61 to report that a victim's mother might go to the police about Janssen. Dingman relayed this news to Bishop Hayes, saying that Hopkins thought "the police would find it difficult to make the boys talk. Father Janssen has them intimidated." Parish school had 209 pupils in 1960-61. Janssen was transferred to St. Joseph's in Fort Madison after complaints 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
6/29/61 11/5/66 St. Joseph's

Fort Madison

• A remarkable account of a boy's happy childhood ruined by sexual abuse, orgies, pornography, and sacrilege.

• A subtle description of Janssen's methods and of the ring of priests around him.

• Victims from these years also describe being pimped by Janssen to a Memphis priest (in 1963) and later to Rev. William F. Wiebler. The abuse of James N. Wells continued here (para. 16-18).
IA Assistant, 2/2. Pastor was Rev. Leonard M. Boyle until his death on 11/5/66. Grade school had 135 pupils in 1961-62.
11/5/66 2/1/67 St. Joseph's Fort Madison IA Administrator, 1/1.  
2/1/67 10/11/79 St. Joseph's

Sugar Creek

Account of the victim's first abuse in the Sugar Creek rectory, of trips to Tennessee and Florida, and of being shared with Bass.

Account of oral rape in the Sugar Creek rectory.
IA Pastor A 2/26/69 letter from Rev. Theodore A. Geerts to Bishop O'Keefe proposes Geerts's "living in community" with Janssen at St. Joseph's in Sugar Creek. Other small parishes could be added to St. Joseph's, as O'Keefe himself apparently suggested. The community didn't happen, but in 1972, St. Mary's in Bryant was added to Janssen's responsibilities as a mission of St. Joseph's.
9/7/72 2/4/79 St. Mary's Bryant

• Some of the abuse described in the previous entry occurred while Janssen worked at Bryant, concurrent with his Sugar Creek assignment.

IA Pastor Mission attended from St. Joseph's in Sugar Creek, which had previously been covered by Rev. Edward U. Ruhl, chaplain of Mercy Hospital in Clinton. In the 1973 Directory, Ruhl is indexed at Bryant, but is listed only at the hospital, not at Bryant, which Janssen is now covering. In the 1974 Directory, Ruhl is gone from the hospital and Rev. Msgr. Ambrose J. Burke is chaplain, a surprising change from the year before, when he was dean of Clinton and pastor of St. Mary's. Ruhl is listed mysteriously as being at 2761 Scott Street, Davenport, a few blocks from the chancery and Assumption High School.
1973         Member of the Priests' Senate  
2/1/76 1/1/89       Member of the Priests' Personnel Board. Vicar General Michael J. Morrissey "suggested" to Janssen on 1/13/88 that he resign from the board and seek no other diocesan office, after James Wells met with Morrissey.
10/11/79 10/21/80 St. Anthony's


• The boy who had been groomed by Janssen and then raped by him in the Sugar Creek rectory was abused by Janssen into adulthood, and some of that abuse occurred at the St. Anthony's rectory.
IA Co-Pastor, 2/2. As co-pastor, Janssen assisted Msgr. Thomas J. Feeney, who was vicar general of the diocese, first synodal judge, and a diocesan consultor.  
7/24/80 7/31/90       Diocesan director / chaplain of the Boy Scouts. Janssen's resignation from this post was accepted a week after Rev. Robert T. McAleer's 7/23/90 letter to Bishop O'Keefe, summarizing allegations against Janssen.


10/21/80 8/15/90 Sts. Philip and James

Grand Mound

• Donald J. Green's account of abuse during a 1982 trip to Tennessee and Florida, as well as a description of other "sleepovers." Parishioners warned Vicar General Morrissey about the sleepovers in 1983.
IA Pastor, 1/1. Janssen succeeded Very Rev. Patrick V. Duggan, who was also dean of the Clinton deanery. When Janssen was suspended, Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Morrissey became pastor, an unusual appointment for the vicar general.  
8/15/90 11/5/91
      "Indefinite leave of absence for health reasons" Granted on 7/31/90, a week after Fr. Robert T. McAleer's 7/23/90 letter to Bishop O'Keefe, summarizing allegations against Janssen.
11/5/91 2003 St. Vincent Center Davenport IA Retired. Janssen lived at the St. Vincent Center in Davenport with retired Davenport Bishop O'Keefe, Vicar General Morrissey, Chancellor Leo Feeney, Vice Chancellor Parizek, and other diocesan officials, as well as accused priest Frank Martinez.
? 4/15/96 Our Lady of Victory Davenport IA "Coverage" for Rev. Daniel C. Mannhardt, who was in residence here. Pastor was Rev. E. William Kaska. Assistant was Rev. Martin G. Goetz.

The 1996 Directory reports that at this time Janssen was living at the St. Vincent Center with Vicar General Morrissey, Chancellor Feeney, Vice Chancellor Parizek, accused priest Frank Martinez, and several former deans.
Vicar General ordered such coverage ended, and followed up with a confidential letter to all active priests. In a comment on this assignment record, diocesan lawyer Rand Wonio states that Mannhardt had the hospital ministry at Genesis (see next entry), and Janssen was helping him there. It is not clear from Wonio's comments whether the "coverage" that Janssen was providing to Mannhardt involved work in the parish as well. For this reason, we have not included Janssen's "coverage" in the entry for Our Lady of Victory in our list of parishes where accused priests have served. The parish is in that list, unfortunately, but that's because Rev. James E. Leu worked there for 6.5 years. Mannhart's chaplaincy at Genesis is not listed in the 1995 or 1996 Directory.
? 4/15/96 Genesis Medical Center, Multiple Adictions Recovery Center


• Vicar General Morrissey specifically prohibited Janssen from further contact with a teenage boy who was a patient at MARC.
IA   Outpatient program and 14 beds in private rooms for inpatients. See comment on previous entry.
  8/30/00 Scott County Family Y and Davenport Outing Club

Davenport IA Lifeguard and teacher When Janssen's positions were featured in a Quad-City Times article, BishopFranklin issued a precept prohibiting work that brought Janssen into contact with minors.
6/14/04 6/18/04         Request for laicization reportedly sent to the Vatican.
        Janssen laicized; the Vatican notified the Davenport diocese of this action almost two months later on 9/20/04; the diocese announced the news on 9/23/04.

Source: Official Catholic Directory (New York: Kenedy and Sons, 1949-2003). Diocesan documents submitted as exhibits to Plaintiff's Statement of Disputed Facts in Resistance to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (Wells v. Janssen and Diocese of Davenport, Scott County District Court, Law No. 101220, served 5/14/04) and Plaintiff's Statement of Disputed Facts in Resistance to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment (John Doe III v. Janssen, Bass, Geerts, and Diocese of Davenport, Scott County District Court, Law No. 101428, served 5/14/04). Dates of assignments drawn cautiously from Bishop William E. Franklin, "A Historical Accounting of Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors and Action Taken Regarding Certain Priests" (Davenport, Iowa: Diocese of Davenport, February 25, 2004).

Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster. See our sample page from the Directory.

Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Janssen's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory and other sources with allegations against him as they are described in survivors' accounts and diocesan documents. Janssen has denied all charges, but in notes written by Bishop Hayes on 10/3/58, Janssen is said to have "confessed his guilt," and Janssen himself wrote to Hayes on 12/11/58 to say "I am truly repentant for my past sins. Again, I am sorry for those relapses into sin which I admitted to you at your home" (p. 3). However, we make no representation regarding the truth of the allegations we report, and we remind our readers that in the U.S. judicial system, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

A Note on Nomenclature: We use the term "assignment records," instead of the more common "service records," because "service" is not an appropriate word for the activities of an abusive priest. Dioceses are often less than forthcoming about the activities of retired priests, but when we can determine those activities, we list them in these assignment records, particularly if they involve ministry. Retired priests remain under obedience to their bishop, and even the activities of laicized priests should be a concern to the diocese.

This assignment record was last updated on 10/28/04.