Bishop Accountability
  Third Lawsuit Filed against Retired Area Priest

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
September 30, 2003

CLINTON, Iowa — A second Clinton County man has filed a lawsuit claiming he was sexually abused by two retired Catholic priests as a child, and that the Diocese of Davenport failed to protect him from the abuse.

The lawsuit filed late last week by someone known only as “John Doe II” follows the footsteps of another civil case filed in May by a Clinton County man known as “John Doe.”

Both lawsuits — and another lawsuit filed in Scott County last month — claim the Rev. James Janssen, 81, sexually abused boys during his church leadership in the diocese decades ago.

The new Clinton County lawsuit also names a second priest employed by the diocese, the Rev. Francis Bass, as a collaborator in the plaintiff’s abuse.

Doe II claims the two priests began abusing him in 1967, when he was an altar boy younger than 14 in St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek, located in rural Clinton County.

The lawsuit claims Janssen told the plaintiff before abusing him, “This is how we build trust.”

Janssen’s attorney, Edward Wehr of Davenport, declined to comment about the ongoing cases. The plaintiff’s attorney, Craig Levien of Davenport, also declined to comment.

Bass could not be reached for comment.

The Diocese of Davenport responded to media inquiries with a written statement, confirming the lawsuit alleges sexual misconduct occurring more than 30 years ago. The statement said both priests are retired from the diocese, but that church leaders are “reviewing the complaint.”

“It would not be appropriate to discuss this matter while it is in litigation,” diocese spokesman David Montgomery wrote.

The lawsuit claims Janssen took the plaintiff and other minor church members to an adult movie theater in Clinton. He also claims Janssen took him and other church children on an out-of-state trip and encouraged them to shoplift.

Bass is accused of abusing the plaintiff at the Sugar Creek rectory and the parish rectory in Newton, and in out-of-state hotels, including one in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The lawsuit claims Janssen was transferred by the diocese to the church in Sugar Creek after abusing other children as assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Fort Madison, where he worked from 1961-1966.

The diocese knew about Janssen’s abuse, but failed to investigate, document or report his actions to authorities or church members, the lawsuit states.

Bass allegedly witnessed and participated in such sexual abuse from 1957-1966, when he was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in East Pleasant Plain, according to the lawsuit.

“The negligent hiring, supervising, warning, documenting and retaining of defendant Bass and defendant Janssen by defendant Diocese of Davenport was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries,” the lawsuit states.

The Clinton County lawsuit echoes another filed in May by a plaintiff known only as “John Doe,” who claims in court documents that Janssen also abused him as an altar boy at the Sugar Creek church.

Court documents filed recently in that initial “John Doe” case show Janssen denies having any sexual conduct with the plaintiff, but admits to spending time with the plaintiff — including taking out-of-state trips with him — over the years.

A trial date has not been set yet in that case.

Meanwhile, Janssen’s nephew, James N. Wells of Davenport, filed a lawsuit last month in Scott County claiming the priest “engaged in repeated, illegal and immoral sexual conduct” with him as a child.

Wells claims the abuse started in about 1953, when Wells was 5 years old, and continued until the summer of 1962, according to the lawsuit.

Janssen reportedly started his career with the diocese as associate pastor at St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport in 1948, moving on to positions in Burlington, St. Irenaeus Parish in Clinton, East Pleasant Plain, Newton, Holbrook, St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar, St. Mary’s Parish in Davenport and Fort Madison.

He then was transferred as pastor in Sugar Creek, followed by service in St. Mary Parish in Bryant, St. Anthony Parish in Davenport and Ss. Philip & James Parish in Grand Mound before retiring in 1990, according to court documents.

The lawsuit shows Bass worked in various pastoral positions during his career, including St. Mary’s Parish in Clinton, Eddyville, East Pleasant Plain, Newton, Iowa City, St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar and St. Anne’s Parish in Welton, ending his work in the Diocese of Davenport in 1992.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.