Bishop Accountability
  One Judge to Handle Diocese Abuse Cases

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City (IA) Times
January 1, 2004

A district judge who has already ordered the Catholic Diocese of Davenport to provide records of sexual abuse allegations against priests in one civil lawsuit will be assigned to preside over that case and five others from the Quad-City area.

District Judge C.H. Pelton will be specially assigned to the six civil lawsuits filed against the diocese and several priests in Scott and Clinton counties, said David Schoenthaler, the newly appointed chief judge of the Iowa judicial district that includes those counties.

Having one judge hear motions on the four lawsuits filed in Clinton County and the two lawsuits filed in Scott County will make consistent rulings more likely across all the cases, Schoenthaler said Wednesday.

The lawsuits should move through the system more efficiently together due to their similar nature, the common defendant and their complex and high-profile nature, he said.

Attorneys for both sides are waiting for the Iowa Supreme Court to consider the diocese’s request to appeal Pelton’s Nov. 26 civil court ruling. He ordered church officials to provide part of the records they were 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 the alleged sexual abuse of minors from 1950 to 2002.

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

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

Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents John Doe and five other plaintiffs in similar civil proceedings against the diocese and priests, said the Davenport Diocese’s approach to compiling the review board records is strikingly different from the approach taken by the Dubuque Archdiocese.

Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus apologized to the victims in allegations of child sex abuse by 26 Catholic priests in the archdiocese over the past 50 years as compiled for the national report.

Allegations against six other priests have been received, but due to vague information, anonymous reporting or the person not giving permission for their name to be used, adequate evaluation has not been possible, according to the report from the archdiocese that was released Monday.

The Dubuque Archdiocese complies, Levien said, “even though it indicates that certain names are kept confidential, versus Davenport, which claims that the reason they’re not is because names would have to be listed in the work papers and then that would have to be destroyed.

“I think people will have to judge whether that’s the real reason” the Davenport Diocese has not complied with the study, added Levien, who has said his cases hinge on these requested court documents.

Davenport Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said a judge’s order in a lawsuit to not destroy any documents put them between a “rock and a hard place” because the protocols and instructions for the national study say work notes used to compile the allegations should be destroyed.

“We want to protect the privacy of those individuals,” he said. “We didn’t think we could do the work at all without having to turn over that type of information.”


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