Bishop Accountability
  Diocese: Sex Abuse Claims Too Old

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City (IA) Times
January 13, 2004

Attorneys for the Diocese of Davenport and priests accused of sexual abuse in civil lawsuits are arguing that some of the cases should be dismissed because they are past the statute of limitations, court records show.

The diocese has joined motions to dismiss two of the 10 civil lawsuits against the diocese that allege sexual abuse by priests from 20 to 50 years ago, citing evidence that the plaintiffs knew they had legal claims to assert in the mid- to late-1980s, attorneys for the diocese said.

Lawsuits by adults seeking damages for sexual abuse as minors have to be filed within four years from the time the person discovers the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the sexual abuse, according to Iowa law.

The diocese is seeking to dismiss lawsuits filed in Scott County against the Rev. James Janssen and the diocese by James Wells, Janssen’s nephew, and a lawsuit filed in June in Lee County against Vicar General Drake Shafer, the second-ranking official at the diocese.

Diocese attorneys plan to file a similar motion soon in another Scott County case, they said.

“The investigation of these claims is hampered by the fact that many potential witnesses have passed away,” diocese attorney Rand Wonio read from a statement. “The diocese, like any other person who is sued in court for money, is entitled to the rights and protections granted by the Constitution and the laws.

“The diocese has a responsibility to everyone to insure that the legal proceedings are fair to all,” he added.

Craig Levien, the attorney representing Wells and seven other plaintiffs in cases against the diocese in Scott and Clinton counties, said the diocese is looking to avoid helping victims of sexual abuse via a technicality that doesn’t deny abuse occurred.

“The members of the church itself will have to judge whether they want their church to deny victims any kind of help because of a technical defense due to the passage of time,” Levien said.

A motion in the Wells case includes a 1987 letter from Wells to Janssen, in which Wells says that a psychologist determined his depression was a direct result of the sexual abuse he was subjected to by Janssen as a child.

“It is obvious from the letter that the casual relationship between the alleged abuse was readily apparent to this plaintiff in the calendar year 1986,” Janssen said in an affidavit in support of the motion to dismiss the case. The lawsuit was filed in 2003.

A response filed by Levien claims that Wells should be able to continue the lawsuit because the diocese concealed from Wells the sexual propensities of Janssen, and Wells suffered from mental disease caused by the abuse and was not capable of protecting his legal rights.

It also includes a letter, the response to Wells’ letter to Janssen drafted in 1987 by attorney Edward Wehr, to argue that Wells was coerced not to pursue legal action because he was threatened with a lawsuit.

“If you persist in these allegations or pursue any further actions, we will not only have to defend the same, but will be required to sue you for the ensuing damages to Father Janssen’s reputation and standing in the community,” that letter reads.

No hearing is set on the motion in the Wells case. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for Feb. 20 in the Lee County case, in which Shafer has denied the allegations that he molested a teenage boy more than 30 years ago at a Fort Madison church.


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