Bishop Accountability
  Parish Letter Opens Bishop’s Eyes to ‘Real Tragedy’
(Second of two parts)

By Mary Rueter, Managing Editor
DeWitt Observer
January 28, 2004

While he and other church officials have been busy defending the Davenport Diocese against lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Father James Janssen and several other priests, the Most Rev. William Franklin, apparently was unaware the accusations also have had a profound effect on other members of the victims’ parish(es).

After hearing through the grapevine of the parish council’s intent to send a letter to him, with copies to be sent to the local media, Bishop Franklin paid an unannounced visit to SS Philip and James Parish, Grand Mound, during the morning Mass, Sunday, Jan. 18.

The parish council’s letter urged the bishop to “be forthcoming with information regarding the accusations of sexual abuse(s) within our diocese.”

Further, it stated the diocese “must not cover up inappropriate actions of some priests, thereby placing a veil of suspicion over innocent priests who are good and holy people . . .”

Although Franklin may have hoped to head off the mailing of the letter, the parish council went ahead with its plans and read it in its entirety at the end of Mass. It was met with applause.

Opportunity to Ask Questions

In a phone interview Thursday, Jan. 22, Franklin said his purpose in going to Grand Mound was twofold: “I wanted them to know I was available, and second, I thought more could be accomplished if they could ask questions, and I could answer them.”

Asked what the visit did accomplish, the bishop said it was a direct response to a message saying the parish wanted to get in communication with him.

The Grand Mound meeting, he says, was an opportunity to share and ask questions. “It was beneficial to me the opportunity was there — a visible sign their bishop was willing to visit and talk with them.”

Franklin said since SS Philip and James Parish has only one Mass on Sundays, it presented an opportunity for him to meet with a large number of people in one gathering. “I agreed to stay after Mass and visit with them.”

The dialog that ensued revealed pain, suffering, insecurity, doubt, anger, sadness and a need for healing, members of the parish council said.

Franklin explained because many of the accusations in 10 lawsuits filed against the diocese and indiviual priests happened before his tenure as Bishop of the Davenport Diocese, he could not answer all of the questions posed by parish members.

Following Diocese Policy

He said he had been aware in the spring of 2002 of a need to visit with the Grand Mound Parish. “I told them there had been allegations of inappropriate behavior by a former priest, and I urged them to get in contact with me.

“I came and asked the people — but no one came forward, not even indirectly.

“I asked the people,” he repeated. At that time, he says he did not mention the accused priest’s name as outlined in the Sexual Misconduct Policy of the Davenport Diocese that had been adopted in 1998 (was revised in 2003) and outlines the communication policy and response to those impacted by the pain of sexual misconduct.

The policy says, in part, “The Diocese of Davenport acknowledges one of the most important elements in healing is that the parish receive information about what happened. It helps dispel that a cover-up is being imposed . . . assists other victims to come forward . . . and assures the appropriate steps are taken so the church can truly move ahead.”

“We have painfully opened our eyes to the reality that steps outlined in the Sexual Misconduct Policy were not followed,” the parish council wrote in its letter to the bishop.

Franklin maintains, “ I was interested in who might have had (inappropriate sexual contact) with a priest, but I did not get a response. I’m not saying they didn’t talk to someone else, but I did not hear it — directly or indirectly.

“As for not mentioning the priest’s name,” Franklin says, “I figured I was following policy. At the time I was following policy. If I mentioned a priest’s name and said, ‘This has happened,’ what if someone else had been victimized by another priest? I was asking for generic information and hoping someone would come forward.”

But no one did.

And so nothing more was done.

And the anger and sadness and pain continued to build within the parish.

‘Real Tragedy’

“I certainly can say as this has developed, it is a real tragedy,” the bishop acknowledged as a result of his conversation with parish members.

“In Grand Mound, I see examples of how an individual and a parish have suffered and how the parish has found a way through their spokespersons to say this will not destroy them, but they will grow from it.

“It does not necessarily mean an answer will be found right away. I hope they can continue to work together and a method of healing will be accepted,” he continued.

“I still believe they are people of prayer. Their strength comes not only from their action but from their ultimate trust and faith in God.”

For now, the bishop said he is interested in having a chance to answer questions.

“I will talk with anyone with the stipulation that when we have a meeting, I will keep it confidential, but they are free to share (the conversation) with others,” the bishop says. “(Victims) should be free to share more of their life than I can,” he added.

Such conversations are difficult, Franklin says, because each party has its own viewpoint and perceptions. He cited an example of a conversation between a husband and wife in which each has a different understanding of an issue. “That’s why I let people say what has taken place in their life,” he explained.

Response by Letter

As for his response to the people of SS Philip and James, Franklin said, “I just got the letter.

“It was my first time to see this group. There was suffering there and they came forward to support their victim. Their action shows how (sexual abuse) affects the individual, the family and the community.”

The bishop presumes since the parish council communicated with him by letter, they probably expect a letter in return.

“After my letter, I think another meeting would be appropriate,” the bishop suggested. “It is too early to anticipate what will happen. I will make suggestions if they wish to take advantage of them and work out practical ways to implement healing.”

He added planning at the diocese level is ongoing “but hasn’t fallen into place yet.”

Defrocking for Janssen

In the meantime, a suggestion that parish healing could begin if Father Janssen no longer were a priest, apparently is being acted upon.

Franklin said although Janssen resides at St. Vincent Center, a home for retired priests in Davenport, he has not had permission to function in public as a priest since before Franklin arrived in Davenport in 1994.

“In order to have him defrocked, I have to send a report to Rome and then wait for a response,” Franklin said. “As bishop, I cannot defrock him.”

Franklin said he believes that paperwork has been initiated but added he cannot predict how long it will take to receive a response.

A New Idea

The bishop said while the whole idea of sexual abuse by a priest is one he has never had to deal with before, he is intolerant of new cases. He says the only case in which he has been actively involved is that of Father Rick Poster, who was sentenced last week to a year in prison after he was found guilty of having pornographic material on his laptop computer.

“He was charged by the authorities after I turned him in,” Franklin declared. “I turned it over to the police as soon as it was discovered.”

If a group came to him with allegations of sexual abuse by a priest today, Franklin says, “I would be informed; I would confront the individual; I would investigate proof of the accusation; I would get psychiatric help for him; and he would be removed from operating in the public.”

The problem is, Franklin does not want to appear to be looking only at priests. He observes he also must be concerned about all other adults operating under the auspices of the Catholic Church.

“Besides priests, there are many lay people who work with children. The mandatory program for volunteers and others who work with youth, ‘Protecting God’s Children,’ has been an eye opener,” he says.

“People didn’t think of the dangers. There is prevention in awareness.”


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