Bishop Accountability
  Diocese Asks High Court to Hear Appeal

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
December 23, 2003

The Diocese of Davenport made a final-hour request to the Iowa Supreme Court to appeal a Clinton County judge’s order to provide records of sex-abuse allegations against priests for the past 50 years.

Attorneys with Lane & Waterman in Davenport, who represent the diocese, overnight-mailed the 18-page document Monday, the last day they could appeal Clinton County District Judge C.H. Pelton’s Nov. 26 civil court ruling.

The diocese claims in the appeal that Pelton’s order would force church leaders to reveal identities of people who came forward with sex-abuse complaints they thought would remain confidential.

Meanwhile, the Clinton County man known only as “John Doe” who filed the civil lawsuit against the diocese and the Rev. James Janssen, a retired priest, remains anonymous in court proceedings.

“The diocese has taken the position throughout the litigation that one of the most important matters of trust is attempting to protect the identities of people who have come forward and asked for help,” Davenport attorney Charles Miller said on behalf of the diocese. “Our prime goal is to maintain the trust of those people who have come to us in confidence and given us information or sought help.”

Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents John Doe and five other plaintiffs in similar civil proceedings against the diocese and priests, said his cases hinge on these requested court documents.

“We’ve been waiting for these documents to be produced in court to process the other cases,” he said. “I thought we were going to proceed and get this information.”

According to the judge’s order, the diocese must provide part of the records it was asked to compile for the National Review Board, an independent panel appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

All Catholic dioceses across the country were asked to participate in a national study to identify the number of victims and priests involved in alleged sex abuse of minors from 1950-2002.

However, attorneys for the diocese said local Catholic church leaders have not complied with that request because of the judge’s ruling.

Pelton’s order states that the names of victims listed in diocese records would remain shielded from the public, but the plaintiff and his attorney would be privy to that information for evidence-gathering purposes.

Only the names of the priests involved in the lawsuits would be made public in the documents.

“We believe even that disclosure of the confidentiality breaks the bond of trust we have with our parishioners,” Nathan Clark, another of the diocese’s attorneys, said. “It’s our position that the actual identities of those people are not relevant.”

The ruling also mandates the diocese preserve all documents related to the study, including scrap paper and notes taken while gathering the church records, attorneys for the diocese said.

“The district court told us in May that thou shalt not destroy any paper, and we have not,” Miller said.

The diocese also takes issue with the judge’s ruling that John Doe can remain anonymous in court proceedings and the defendants’ evidence-gathering process.

Miller said the diocese already knows John Doe’s identity, but is not allowed to use that information when questioning prospective witnesses or seeking background evidence to defend the diocese.

The appeal calls the court’s failure to find a way to use Doe’s name while protecting his privacy and the rights of the diocese is “erroneous and an abuse of discretion.”

“The diocese has no desire to splash Doe’s name in the media,” the appeal request states. “It wants only to have the right to conduct an investigation and prepare a defense.”

A national advocacy group for victims of abusive priests has sharply criticized the Davenport diocese for resisting the judge’s order to produce records, and blasted the church again Tuesday for its “secrecy.”

David Clohessy of St. Louis, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said similar civil court rulings that call for church records to be made public are becoming more common. Many are tied up in appeals processes, he said.

“They’re choosing to use parishioners’ donations to continue hiding the truth and delaying the healing for everybody,” he said. “It’s a sad commentary on the priorities of the diocese. From their perspective, secrecy trumps healing and prevention.”


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