Bishop Accountability
  Diocese Turns Over Records on 3 Priests

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
February 24, 2004

CLINTON, Iowa — Over the past several days, the Catholic Diocese of Davenport has turned over personnel records to a Quad-City attorney about three priests accused of sexually abusing boys in 10 civil lawsuits filed in Clinton and Scott counties.

However, diocese officials again asked a Clinton County judge Tuesday to reconsider his November order that ruled the diocese must reveal all records of sex-abuse claims against priests over the past 50 years, including the names of victims they say expected their complaints to remain confidential.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently declined to hear the diocese’s appeal of District Judge C.H. Pelton’s ruling, bouncing it back to the district court. The judge said he will rule on the request soon.

In the meantime, Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents the plaintiffs in the sex-abuse lawsuits, will continue reading stacks of church documents provided by the diocese since last week about the Revs. Francis Bass, Theodore Geerts and James Janssen.

“I was sickened to my stomach with what I read,” Levien said about records he received Tuesday regarding Janssen.

Rand Wonio, who is representing the diocese, said the church has been busy gathering personnel records about more than 600 clergy members who have worked in the diocese since 1950 and will release that information in a report very soon.

Despite that work, the diocese stands firm in its belief that the judge’s order could cause psychological harm to the victims if their names are not protected.

Wonio said he also believes the names of the men known only as “John Doe” who are suing the diocese also should stay out of the public realm.

However, the diocese is asking the judge again to consider devising a way for the church to use the men’s names in their investigations to prepare for trial. Without the names, Wonio said the diocese cannot seek witnesses who might know the plaintiffs or have heard them talk about abuse in the past.

“We want a level playing field for the investigation of these claims,” Wonio said.

Levien said he is counting on church archives to prove the Davenport diocese knew the priests were sexually abusing young boys but did nothing to stop it.

He said those records will include repeated reports to diocese officials about alleged abuse attempts by Bass, starting in 1960.

Levien argued that some victims do not want their names hidden “under a cloak of secrecy,” and that his case needs the names to find potential witnesses for his lawsuits. He said the names would not be revealed to the media, as the judge’s order now stands.

According to testimony, the first known diocesan policy about sexual exploitation of minors was written in 1990, with updates in 1998 and 2003. The church’s underlying theme has been to protect victims’ identities, as requested by the victims, diocese chancellor Irene Prior Loftus said.

Loftus, who worked as a Davenport lawyer before being hired by the diocese in 1999, said she often has been the first person in the diocese that victims contact when reporting abuse. She retained handwritten notes from meetings with alleged victims for her records.

She said many of those victims came forward under the strict condition that their identities would not be released. Some people may not report abuse in the future if they fear their names will be released, she said.

“It may re-injure them as far as their psychological condition,” Wonio said. “We would hate to have to tell them that their names are going to be given to Mr. Levien or anyone else.”


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