By Todd Ruger
A new lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Davenport includes allegations that church officials continue to support a retired priest even though the diocese has received complaints about him committing sexual abuse of boys for more than 50 years.
A man identified only as “John Doe VI” also claims that the diocese admitted a four-month leave of absence by the Rev. James Janssen in 1953 “could be interpreted” to show it was a result of complaints about Janssen’s inappropriate sexual contact with adolescents.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by an adult male alleging sexual abuse by Janssen in a Fort Madison, Iowa, parish beginning in 1961, is the fifth of its kind to be filed in Scott County District Court and joins four similar lawsuits filed in Clinton County and two filed in Lee County alleging sexual abuse by priests.
A news release issued Tuesday afternoon by the diocese says many of the allegations in the petition are false, incorrect and stated “in a sensational manner, apparently calculated to generate publicity.”
The latest lawsuit includes new allegations focusing on the claim, common to all 11 lawsuits, that the diocese knew of Janssen’s sexual abuse but intentionally or negligently failed to take action to ensure the abuse would not occur again while he was employed by the church.
The information about Janssen’s 1953 leave of absence was stored downstairs at the chancery, inside a locked combination safe that is known as the “secret archives” of the diocese and not readily available to all authority figures of the diocese, including the designated sex abuse counselor, the lawsuit claims.
Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said church officials found additional materials about allegations of abuse by Janssen in a locked safe, but, he added, the lawsuit twists that for sensational effect. Also, the diocese does not have a “sex abuse counselor,” he said.
“That makes it sound like they’re really hiding things,” he added. “That’s not true.”
The lawsuit further alleges that the diocese continues to: permit Janssen to actively practice priestly duties, wear a clerical collar, refer to him with the honorary term of “Father,” conduct funerals and say homilies as a holy member and representative of the priesthood and the diocese.
Wonio said Bishop William Franklin ordered Janssen in writing, as of April 1996, to cease any public priestly activities and that other priests were notified of the order.
“If he is doing it, he is going against specific orders of Bishop Franklin,” Wonio said. He declined comment when asked by the Quad-City (IA) Times why Franklin issued such an order.
The newest lawsuit further claims that the diocese continues to sanction and endorse Janssen as a priest by: permitting his name to be displayed in an honorary fashion at the parishes of Saints Phillip and James in Grand Mound and St. Joseph in Sugar Creek; allowing him to reside in diocesan living quarters; continuing to support him and requesting financial support for him from members of the diocese in a published appeal for contributions to “retired priests.”
The Dec. 4, 2003, edition of The Catholic Messenger, the diocese’s weekly newspaper, which lists Franklin as publisher, printed an advertisement listing retired priests so that “friends may remember them with personal greetings for Christmas.”
Janssen was included in that list with a mailing address at the St. Vincent Center in Davenport and was referred to as “father.”
“This is a list that gets published every year,” Wonio said.
The news release from the diocese states that the John Doe VI lawsuit does not constitute a plain statement of allegations as required by the rules of the Iowa courts.
“Many allegations in the petition are false, incorrect and take previous informational responses by the diocese in other cases totally out of context, again, apparently for sensational effect,” the statement reads.
Craig Levien, the Quad-City attorney who has filed nine of the 11 lawsuits, said some allegations are based on information filed by the diocese and defendants in the other lawsuits as they progress through the legal system.
“Information has been provided by the diocese and members of the public to support what is said in the petition,” he said of the John Doe VI lawsuit. “As the time goes on after the filing of these lawsuits, the information about Janssen’s activities has become more and more specific.”
The latest lawsuit alleges that when Janssen was at the St. Joseph’s parish in Fort Madison, he would reach back and fondle John Doe VI, then serving as an altar boy, as they were entering the church for Mass.
It also claims that Janssen requested and encouraged boys from the church
to engage in group sexual activities in both his gymnasium office at the
St. Joseph’s school and in his car as he was driving the boys to
the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
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