Bishop Accountability
  Former Q-C Priest Accused of Sex Abuse

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
September 18, 2003

A lawsuit filed in Scott County District Court claims the Diocese of Davenport ignored a former Catholic priest’s repeated sexual abuse of boys under his supervision — including his nephew — more than 40 years ago as part of a pastoral career that ended with a decade as a Boy Scout chaplain.

The nephew of the Rev. James Janssen seeks unspecified damages in the lawsuit against the priest and the diocese, claiming the diocese refused to take any action when he and his mother, Janssen’s sister, reported the abuse to church authorities in 1990.

Janssen “engaged in repeated harmful, illegal and immoral sexual contact” with nephew James N. Wells of Davenport starting in about 1953, when Wells was 5 years old, and ending in the summer of 1962, according to the lawsuit.

It is the second sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Janssen and the fourth against the Diocese of Davenport in the wake of numerous cases of past sex abuse by Catholic priests that have surfaced nationwide since last year, causing American Catholic bishops to revise the church’s sex abuse policies.

“(Wells) feels strong enough about it that he’s willing to have his name made public,” said attorney Craig Levien, who also represents a man listed only as “John Doe” in the similar lawsuit filed against Janssen and the diocese in Clinton County. “All I can tell you is what we’ve alleged in the petition we believe will be proved in the court.”

Wells could not be reached for comment Thursday by the QUAD-CITY TIMES.

Diocese officials sent a short news release in response to media inquiries, stating that Janssen has been “fully retired” since 1990 and does not have any diocesan duties. The diocese is reviewing a copy of the lawsuit it received Wednesday, and “it would not be appropriate to comment further,” the release states.

The diocese will continue to respond to such matters in line with a charter issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and policies recognized by the Vatican, the release continued.

The lawsuit claims Janssen sought and gained parental consent for Wells — described as a confirmed member of a parish in the Davenport Diocese and an altar boy who attended Mass weekly — to participate in counseling and other activities during which “immoral sexual contacts” would occur.

On more than one occasion, Janssen told Wells before making such contacts that they were to be “our secret,” the lawsuit states.

Also, Janssen would take Wells and a group of other students swimming at the Lend-A-Hand pool in Davenport, where he would sexually abuse them, the lawsuit claims.

While Janssen was assigned as a priest in Fort Madison, Iowa, he and another priest would have card parties with Wells and other young boys during which the priests and boys would be unclothed, according to the lawsuit.

During the summer of 1962, Janssen took Wells and two to three other boys from Fort Madison to Daytona Beach, Fla. On the way there, Janssen picked up another priest and “offered the plaintiff (Wells) to the other priest,” the lawsuit states.

Wells refused to allow that to happen and the abuse ceased after the trip, according to the lawsuit.

The diocese “either knew or should have known of the improper sexual abuse perpetrated by defendant Janssen,” but instead placed him in positions of power and authority rather than properly investigating or “taking all reasonable steps” to prevent further abuse, the lawsuit claims.

Those positions included serving on the Priest Senate, being placed on the Priest Personnel Board from 1976 to 1989 and serving as a Boy Scout chaplain from 1980 to 1990, the lawsuit states.

The diocese acted contrary to the written policy regarding sex abuse by priests that was in place during 1990 and detailed the manner in which it would be addressed, the lawsuit claims. Wells and his mother reported the abuse to a “Father Morrissey,” who was in a position of power and authority, according to the lawsuit.

Wells’ lawsuit seeks “an amount in excess of the jurisdictional amount that is fair and reasonable to compensate him for the damages resulting from the years of sexual abuse inflicted upon him and for punitive damages in an amount sufficient to deter others and punish Defendants for their wrongful conduct.”

Janssen is also a defendant in a lawsuit filed in May against the diocese in which a Clinton County man claims he was molested while serving as an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Parish in Sugar Creek during the late 1960s.


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