Bishop Accountability
  Q-C Bishop Asks Vatican for Guidance on Defrocking

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City (IA) Times
January 29, 2004

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Davenport plans to continue making himself available to parishes with concerns about allegations of priests sexually abusing minors, building on his surprise visit to a Grand Mound church last week, diocese representatives said Thursday.

In the meantime, the diocese continues to compile an internal review of priests’ personnel files, and Bishop William Franklin has sent informal paperwork to the Vatican that requests guidance about the possible defrocking of a retired priest.

Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said he was told by Franklin that formal paperwork has not been started to defrock the Rev. James Janssen, who has been named in eight of 11 civil lawsuits filed against the diocese alleging decades-old instances of sexual abuse.

The new sexual abuse policies set forth in a 2002 charter by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affected the decision to send the informal paperwork to the Vatican, Wonio said.

Janssen retired in 1990 and a letter sent by Franklin to him and other diocese priests in 1996 said Janssen was not to perform any public priestly duties, Wonio added.

As part of the process to defrock a priest, the diocesan review board has to meet and consider the case before making a recommendation to the bishop to defrock a priest. The bishop can either accept or decline that recommendation, Wonio said.

If he accepted the recommendation, formal paperwork requesting the defrocking would be sent to Vatican City, starting a canon law process that ends with a decision from the Vatican, he added.

“The ultimate decision is made in Rome,” he said.

Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who has filed nine of the 11 lawsuits against the diocese, responded to word of the paperwork being sent to the Vatican by calling it a first step toward attempting to heal the wounds and damage caused by sexual abuse.

“That would be the first public admission that this is a man who has committed sex abuse against these clients when they were children,” Levien said, referring to any move to defrock Janssen.

On Jan. 18, Franklin attended Mass at Saints Philip and James Catholic Church in Grand Mound, Iowa, after hearing that parish members were concerned about the diocese’s response to the sexual abuse allegations, Wonio said.

One of the lawsuits filed against Janssen in Clinton County originated at that church, where Donald J. Green of DeWitt accused the retired priest of fondling him when he was a minor, beginning in 1982.

Franklin never received any requests to appear at the church and did answer questions from parishioners that Sunday, Wonio said.

“He hoped he had made himself seem more accessible,” Wonio said of the visit, adding that the bishop plans to return there to promote healing. “He knows he didn’t leave everybody as happy as they could be when he left.”

Other future visits planned by Franklin include the St. Joseph parish in Fort Madison, where many of the 11 lawsuits allege that sexual abuse occurred.

“He plans to attend other churches where this problem would be severe,” Wonio said. “A lot will depend on what the people want.”

The concerns expressed in Grand Mound have encouraged the diocese to release a report that will detail allegations of sexual abuse over the past 50 years once an internal review of personnel files is completed, he said.

Levien said the accuracy of the review has yet to be judged.

“We would certainly applaud their efforts to publicize the extent of the abuse,” he said. “We also know, from victims’ groups, that it’s an underreported offense and many people choose not to tell the diocese about the offense. You would have to actually conduct an investigation to get a true report.”


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