Bishop Accountability
  Lawsuit against Diocese for Alleged Sex Abuse

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
November 24, 2003

CLINTON, Iowa — A Wisconsin man who grew up attending St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar is the sixth person to sue the Diocese of Davenport since May, alleging a Quad-City area priest sexually abused him as a child.

Steven Davis claims in the lawsuit filed Monday in Clinton County District Court that the Rev. Francis Bass fondled him on several occasions beginning in 1982, when Davis was an altar boy at St. Patrick’s.

Davis claims the abuse happened when he was about 14 years old after the priest befriended him and his parents and gained consent for the boy to spend time alone with the priest.

“As a result, plaintiff was conditioned to comply with Bass’ direction and to look to him as an authority on matters spiritual, moral, ethical and temporal,” the lawsuit states.

As in other sex abuse lawsuits filed recently by clients of Davenport attorney Craig Levien, Davis claims the Diocese of Davenport should have known about the sexual abuse when it happened, but failed to take any action against the priest.

The diocese issued a brief written statement Monday, acknowledging the lawsuit and noting that the alleged sexual misconduct occurred more than 20 years ago. “Father Bass has been retired since 1992 and does not have any diocesan duties,” according to the statement. “The diocese is reviewing the complaint. It would not be appropriate to discuss this matter while it is in litigation.”

The diocese said it would “continue to respond to these matters in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” and other church policies.

However, the lawsuit points out that at least one other complaint about Bass’ alleged sexual abuse of a boy was made to another priest in the diocese in as early as 1960, but no disciplinary action was taken.

Instead, Bass was allowed to serve as diocesan director of vocations and placed on the Priest Personnel Board as he served area Catholic churches until he retired, the lawsuit states.

Court documents show Davis is accusing Bass of fondling him in his family’s home while his parents were absent. Davis also claims Bass fondled him in a car between U.S. 61 and Delmar.

The lawsuit states that Davis did not discover “the wrongful conduct and the sexual abuse, the dangers and the causal relationship between the damages and the abuse” until this year.

Five other lawsuits have been filed by clients of Levien in Clinton and Scott counties this year, claiming sexual abuse allegations linked to priests in the diocese that date back decades. Bass is named in some of the lawsuits, along with the Rev. James Janssen and the Rev. Theodore Geerts.

In addition, two other lawsuits also have been filed against the diocese this year out of Des Moines and Lee counties involving two other priests.

Vicar General Drake Shafer, the second-ranking official at the diocese, has denied allegations in a lawsuit filed in June that accuse him of molesting a teenaged boy more than 30 years ago at a Fort Madison church in Des Moines County.

Shafer said he is taking a leave of absence while the diocese investigates the allegations by the plaintiff, known only as “John Doe” in court records, who lives in West Burlington.

In Lee County, the Rev. Martin Diamond, now deceased, is named in a lawsuit filed in January that alleges he sexually abused a Hamilton, Ill., man during the late 1960s in the Church of All Saints in Keokuk, Iowa.

Every time one of these lawsuits is filed, more people come forward with their own stories of abuse, the Davenport attorney said. Levien said a lot of his evidence has come from telephone calls from victims and potential witnesses who have read or heard news accounts about the sex abuse lawsuits.

“Let me tell you, the story is very far reaching, very deep,” he said.

Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf said the lawsuits are a civil matter, and cannot be pursued criminally because of how long ago the allegations occurred.

He said the statute of limitations now allows such childhood sexual abuse charges to be filed up to 10 years after the person turns 18. The statute was even more restrictive when these alleged abuse incidents occurred, Wolf said.

“The only thing you can ever face with a civil lawsuit is monetary damages,” Wolf said.


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