Bishop Accountability
  8th Suit Filed against Diocese
Allegation of Molestation Is Third to Name Retired Priest

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
November 26, 2003

A Wisconsin man who grew up attending St. Patrick Catholic Church in Delmar has filed the eighth lawsuit this year against the Davenport Catholic Diocese alleging molestation by a priest.

Steven Davis names the Rev. Francis Bass as his abuser, beginning in 1982, when Davis was about 14 years old and an altar server at St. Patrick's. This is the third lawsuit naming Bass, who now is retired.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Clinton County alleges that Bass befriended Davis and his parents so he could be alone with the boy. Davis claims the abuse took place in his home when his parents were away and in the priest's car.

The Davenport Diocese acknowledged the lawsuit with a brief written statement.

"Father Bass has been retired since 1992 and does not have any diocesan duties," wrote Deacon David Montgomery, diocese spokesman. "The diocese is reviewing the complaint. It would not be appropriate to discuss this matter while it is in litigation."

Like other lawsuits alleging sexual child abuse by clergy filed against the Davenport Diocese, Davis charges that the diocese knew or should have known about Bass' sexual misconduct and should have sanctioned the priest and warned parents that their children were in danger.

Davis' lawsuit contends that another priest in the diocese was informed as early as 1960 of allegations of improper sexual activity between Bass and a boy.

Davenport has become the most-sued Iowa diocese this year over priest abuse. National advocates for victims of priest abuse contended last week that the diocese has been one of the worst in the country in its handling of abuse cases. The advocates cited the diocese's denial of the abuse and its court request to destroy records created in assessing the scope of the abuse over 50 years for a national survey.

Davenport Bishop William Franklin in a prepared statement said no priests accused of abuse are in public ministry and that the Diocesan Review Board is reviewing allegations. Guilty priests will be removed for ecclesiastical ministry or possibly defrocked.

According to Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf, civil lawsuits are the only legal avenue remaining for abuse victims because the statute of limitations prevents him from bringing criminal charges. Under Iowa law, criminal charges of sexual abuse of a child may be filed up to 10 years after the victim turns 18. The law was even more restrictive in the 1980s, at the time the abuse allegedly occurred.

Craig Levien, attorney for Davis and six other victims, said every time a new lawsuit is filed or reported in the press that more victims and witnesses have come forward.

"The story is continuing to unfold," Levien said. "It is very far-reaching and very deep. Some lawsuits pending now allege abuse starting as early as 1953 and as recently as 1982, naming priests at as many as four different parish assignments."

"I represent people who have never been offered assistance or counseling after requesting it from the diocese and the bishop," Levien said.

Montgomery said the diocese will continue to respond to the allegations under the policies approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The policy recommends offering pastoral care, counseling and reconciliation to victims.

The Davenport Diocese is the state's largest, geographically. With 154 priests, it is second only to the Dubuque archdiocese.


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