Bishop Accountability
  In Lawsuit, Man Alleges Sexual Abuse by Priests

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
October 1, 2003

A fifth lawsuit was filed last week against Davenport's Catholic Diocese related to alleged sexual abuse by priests.

The lawsuit is the first filed this year to allege that church officials were aware that two priests were sexually molesting children, but still moved them from parish to parish without warning families of the danger or protecting the children.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 25 by a Clinton County man identified as John Doe II, accuses the Rev. Francis Bass and the Rev. James Janssen of sexually abusing him in 1967, when he was an altar boy and member of Sugar Creek parish.

Two other sexual abuse lawsuits have named Janssen, but this is the first against Bass.

The diocese Tuesday acknowledged the lawsuit, stating that both Janssen and Bass are retired and have no diocesan duties. Janssen retired in 1990. Bass retired in 1992. David Montgomery, diocese spokesman, said the diocese is reviewing the complaint.

"I have filed three lawsuits against the Davenport Diocese, and they have denied all allegations," said Craig Levien, the attorney who filed the lawsuit. "I perceive (the number of sexual abuse lawsuits) reflects a large problem. No criminal sanctions can be sought."

Davenport Catholics are learning the names of accused abusers only when lawsuits are filed against accused priests and the Davenport Diocese. However, the diocese has adopted new policies covering sexual misconduct by priests and deacons, appointed an allegation review board and named a victim's assistance coordinator, Irene Prior Loftus.

According to the lawsuit, the Davenport Diocese became aware or should have been aware that from 1961-67, Janssen was engaging in harmful sex acts with children when he was pastor at St. Joseph's parish in Fort Madison. Instead of investigating, disciplining Janssen, removing him from the ministry, reporting him to law enforcement, warning members of the diocese, documenting and maintaining records of his abuse or taking action to stop the abuse, the diocese reassigned Janssen to the Sugar Creek parish, where he resumed abusing children, the lawsuit alleges.

At Sugar Creek, Janssen and Bass, who was then an associate pastor at St. Joseph's parish in East Pleasant Plain, singled out Doe II's family and gained the trust and confidence of the boy and his mother, the lawsuit alleges.

The abuse began before the boy reached age 14 and continued for several years, according to the lawsuit.The alleged sexual abuse by the priests took place at the Sugar Creek rectory, Sacred Heart parish rectory in Newton and at out-of-state hotels.

On more than one occasion, before improper sexual contacts with the boy, Janssen would tell him "this is how we build trust," the lawsuit alleges.

The conduct of Janssen and Bass "was so outrageous as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community," according to the lawsuit.

Janssen allegedly took the plaintiff and other minors from the church to an adult movie theater in Clinton to watch a sexually explicit movie. During an out-of-state trip, Janssen encouraged the boys to shoplift, the lawsuit alleges.


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