Bishop Accountability
  Davenport Diocese Hit with 2 More Lawsuits

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
January 14, 2004

The Davenport Catholic Diocese started 2004 much the way it began 2003 -being named in two more lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct against altar boys by priests.

Ten lawsuits alleging abuse by priests have been filed against the diocese in the past 13 months. The diocese has become the most sued of Iowa's four Catholic dioceses. The lawsuits name five priests and allege the abuse occurred over four decades, from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The two new lawsuits, both filed in Scott County, do not name the plaintiffs. Both accuse the Rev. James Janssen, a retired priest who has been named in five earlier lawsuits. One of the plaintiffs also accuses the Rev. James Bass, a retired priest who has been named in four petitions.

One plaintiff accuses Janssen and Bass of working together in the 1960s. The anonymous plaintiff accuses the priests of repeatedly forcing him to engage in illegal and immoral sexual acts with them and their friends, of photographing him nude, and of encouraging him to participate in nude parties.

A second plaintiff alleges that Janssen began sexually abusing him in the 1960s. His lawsuit says that after learning about Janssen's improper sexual misconduct, the diocese took no disciplinary action against the priest or steps to assure such illegal sexual contact would not occur again.

Rand Wonio of Davenport, attorney for the diocese, said he was aware of the lawsuits and that the cases are under investigation.

"We should have sympathy for victims," Wonio said. "But the diocese is entitled to the same rights and protections as anyone else involved in litigation.

Craig Levien, attorney for the most recent plaintiffs and six others, said the series of lawsuits show that the diocese acted negligently when it failed to investigate the priests, refer them to law enforcement, warn members of the diocese about them, or maintain records of their misconduct.

The plaintiff in the ninth lawsuit was abused by Janssen while he was a priest in Fort Madison in the early 1960s, Levien said.

"Janssen was then passed off to Sugar Creek where there were victims, and from there passed off to Grand Mound, and there were victims there," he said.

So far, lawsuits have named Janssen Bass the Rev. Theodore Anthony Geerts, whose status with the diocese has not been specified since 1969 the Rev. Martin Diamond, who is deceased and Monsignor Drake Shafer. Shafer is vicar general, the diocese's top administrative job. He is on leave until allegations against him are resolved.

Levien is seeking documents on what Davenport bishops knew of alleged abuse over the years, when they knew and how they responded to it. He requested 50 years of records, and Clinton County District Judge C.H. Pelton in November ordered the diocese to turn over those records.

The diocese has appealed that ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court and expects a ruling this month.


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