Bishop Accountability
  Bishop Defends Sex-Abuse Action
Diocese Provided Assistance and Compassion to the Victim, Parish Is Told in Letter

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
February 7, 2004

Members of the small Saints Philip and James parish in Grand Mound arrived at church Sunday to find a letter from their bishop awaiting each one of them.

Earlier in January, the parish council took an unprecedented step in sending a public letter to Davenport Bishop William E. Franklin, questioning the way he handled allegations that a longtime priest sexually abused children in their parish. The diocese had not followed its own policy to inform and minister to parish members, they charged.

Challenging Franklin, they said he had "the chance of a lifetime to break down barriers and build a bridge of reconciliation, healing and compassion between the hierarchy and the laity of the Catholic Church."

There was much page turning by members of the congregation who read the bishop's response as the Mass began.

In his letter, Franklin assured the congregation he shared their desire for healing. He hoped the two-hour conversation they shared Jan. 18, when he made a surprise visit to their church, opened new lines of communication.

"I intended my visit to be a visible sign to you that I am here, . . . .open to speak to victims and to parishes as needed," Franklin wrote.

The bishop said he had been supportive of a Saints Philip and James parish member who said he was abused as a child.

"When Donald Green came to the diocese in 1996 with his report that he had been sexually abused by the Rev. James Janssen, we responded with compassion and with action," the bishop wrote. "Diocesan staff and I had several meetings with the Greens. The diocese provided assistance for Mr. Green and his family ever since."

At the Greens' request, the diocese sent Janssen for counseling, the bishop wrote. And on April 1, 1996, Franklin ordered Janssen to cease any public church activity. This directive was in addition to action taken in 1990 by Bishop Gerald O'Keefe, Franklin's predecessor, who put Janssen on indefinite leave of absence.

"I have not previously spoken publicly about the Green family, out of a desire to respect their privacy," Franklin wrote. He noted that Green had "filed a lawsuit for money damages," but "in response to their needs and requests, we provided assistance as they proceeded in their recovery process."

Donald Green, who with his family is still a member of the Grand Mound parish, said he was taken aback by being the focus of a large portion of the bishop's letter.

"It was hurtful to me that the bishop felt the need to include information about me in a letter that should have been addressing the needs of my fellow parishioners," Green said. "We feel this letter is another illustration of the lack of pastoral care being provided for victims by the diocese. The bishop's letter states he intends to restore trust and foster healing. His goal will be difficult to accomplish as long as the bishop continues to be harshly critical of victims."

Franklin also took exception to the parish council's suggestion the diocese wasn't following its own policy to inform congregations affected by sexual misconduct by priests.

"We are following our policies," the bishop wrote. "The sections of the policy quoted in your letter refer to situations in which an accused is removed from current ministry. However, in the spirit of our policies, in May 2002, I went out to Saints Philip and James and addressed your parish regarding allegations against a former pastor. I encouraged individuals to contact the diocese with any accusations. No one did."

This part of the bishop's letter raised questions with some parish council members.

"I was surprised that the bishop said Don Green came forward in 1996, yet he didn't let the parish know anything was going on until 2002," said council member DeeDee Banavetz of Grand Mound. "That's six years."

"You critique me for not naming the priest," Franklin wrote. "One reason for not naming the priest was to be certain to give all of you an opportunity to bring to me any accusations of abuse by any priest. It was intended to encourage the report of any and all accusations."

But council members said the bishop's 2002 visit and remarks didn't connect with parishioners.

They said his references to child sexual abuse by clergy were so vague they thought he was speaking generically about the issue, rather than specifically talking about a priest in their parish.

"Some members of the parish didn't know it was Father Janssen (the bishop was talking about) until the lawsuits were filed," said Diana Scott of Grand Mound, a parish council member.

In his letter, Franklin said the diocese has appointed a new victim assistance coordinator and hired an investigator to look into abuse allegations. As requested by some victims, a support group will be formed.

Franklin concluded by apologizing for "all of the harm resulting from sexual abuse by priests. In Grand Mound, I see your pain. I also see how you are coming together as a strong faith-filled community to support one another . . . "

For the most part, members of the congregation see the bishop's answer as a sign of progress.

"Anyone I have talked to and in correspondence, people have said they are happy we spoke up," said Mary Ann Hahn of Grand Mound, another parish council member. "We all felt we did the right thing. We got things moving in a big way, which was the main goal. Now we hope that everything gets carried through."

They said they would do it again, if they had to.


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