Moves to Defrock Janssen, Bass
By Mary Rueter, Managing Editor
Two Roman Catholic priests who were assigned to local parishes between 1967 and 1992 are among five priests who are being recommended to the Vatican for defrocking.
Bishop William Franklin of the Davenport Diocese announced Wednesday the process of laicizing (defrocking) has been initiated for James Janssen, Francis Bass, Frank Martinez, William Wiebler and Richard Poster. All five have been accused of sexual misconduct.
Defrocking would deny the priests the right to administer the sacraments. Franklin said only Rome (the Vatican) can laicize based on documents sent by the priests’ home diocese.
“If a priest is willing, (the process takes) a shorter period of time,” Franklin explained. “If he wants his time in church court, it takes longer.” Franklin said he could not comment on whether the accused priests are accepting of their proposed defrocking.
But speaking of himself, he said, “One of the greatest things I do as a priest is the sacrifice (sic) of Mass. If that opportunity or privilege or ability were taken away from me, it would be the greatest penalty that could be enforced upon me . . . if I could not serve the people, I would be devastated.”
Janssen and Bass are the defendants in a number of civil suits alleging sexual abuse, which are pending in district court. Both currently are in retirement, living at St. Vincent’s Center, which is located at the diocese headquarters in Davenport.
Even if they are defrocked, Franklin said he would allow Janssen and Bass to live at the diocese home. “They pay rent,” he justified, “and I feel if they are here, we would know more about them than if they were not here.”
Martinez, 54, settled a case out-of-court after being accused of initiating inappropriate sexual activity with a minor in 1986.
Wiebler, 76, has been an in-patient at a treatment facility in Missouri since 2002. He admitted to several acts of sexual abuse in the 1970s and 1980s and retired in 1991. Poster, 39, recently was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of possessing pornography.
65 Allegations of Abuse
In his remarks at a news conference Wednesday, Franklin said the diocese has reviewed the records of over 600 clergy serving the diocese since 1950. Those records show 65 individuals have made allegations of sexual abuse against priests serving the Davenport Diocese. Twenty priests and two members of a lay group have been accused. Thirty-nine charges are attributed to three priests.
“By far,” the report states, “the allegations refer to abuse in the 1950s through 1970s. Of those old incidents, over half were reported since 2001.” The numbers, however, cannot be exact because various reports have mentioned an unspecified number of “others.”
Action Regarding Janssen
Diocesan records reveal Janssen, 81, who served as pastor at St. Joseph Church, Sugar Creek, 1967-1979, and pastor of SS Philip and James, Grand Mound, 1980-1990, was suspended in November 1956 by Bishop Ralph Hayes and placed on indefinite leave from his appointment at Scared Heart, Newton, as a result of apparent sexual misconduct.
During his suspension, he studied at Loyola University in Chicago and underwent psychotherapy. In August 1957, a doctor at Loyola advised Bishop Hayes Janssen “can become a very understanding and acceptable pastor . . . not likely to fall into past errors.”
Hayes then assigned Janssen as a substitute pastor in Holbrook in June 1958. Within three months, however, Hayes received a report from the pastor of a church near Loyola University that Janssen again had been involved in sexual misconduct.
Hayes again suspended Janssen, who went to the Abbey of Our Lady of New Melleray near Dubuque. In January 1959, the abbot responded favorably when Hayes questioned him as to whether Janssen had progressed sufficiently to recall him to the diocese.
Hayes then appointed Janssen temporary administrator of St. Patrick Church, Delmar, and in June 1959, he was named an assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Church, Davenport.
While the diocesan records do not include specific reports of sexual misconduct at St. Mary’s, there are complaints from parents of Janssen’s inappropriate behavior with boys.
He was assigned to St. Joseph Church, Fort Madison, 1961-1967, and was transferred to Sugar Creek after that, remaining until 1979. He again served St. Mary’s in Davenport for a brief time and was assigned as pastor at the Grand Mound church 1980-1990.
No allegations of sexual abuse were made against Janssen between 1961 and 1988, but when one was made in 1988, an investigation by the diocese uncovered credible allegations of sexual misconduct by Janssen while he was at Fort Madison, Sugar Creek and Grand Mound.
He was placed on indefinite leave of absence by Bishop Gerald O’Keefe Aug. 15, 1990, and subsequently was retired from active ministry in November 1991.
When additional allegations of sexual abuse were made against Janssen, Bishop Franklin ordered Janssen to cease any public activity of a church nature, including assistance he was providing to a hospital.
Later — in August 2000 — Franklin also issued a precept which requires Janssen to refrain from all contact with minors (under 18); to cease work at places where contact with minors is likely to occur; and to avoid all places and situations that had in his past, provided serious temptation in the area of sexual morality.
“From the perspective of today,” Franklin admits, “it clearly was a mistake for Janssen to have been reassigned to any public ministry after his 1956 suspension.”
Thus, Franklin accepted the recommendation of the diocesan review board to request the Vatican to laicize Janssen.
Action Regarding Bass
The diocese records show a report dated June 29, 1992, alleging Bass, now 81, had sexually abused a minor in 1964. The priest subsequently retired in October that year.
In 1998, the diocese received another report alleging Bass had sexually abused another minor in the 1960s.
Franklin said additional, credible allegations of abuse against Bass have been received recently by the diocese.
Franklin also accepted the review board’s recommendation to request the Vatican to laicize Bass.
What about the others?
In addition to the five priests who are being recommended for defrocking, the diocese also is investigating allegations against other priests who are defendants in current litigation. They include Theodore Geerts, who left the diocese in 1969 without permission and lives in a California nursing home; vicar general Drake Shafer, who is on leave of absence pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed in Lee County court; and Louis Telegdy and Martin Diamond, both deceased.
In other cases:
•The review board determined no action is warranted against a retired priest who allegedly abused two minors over 40 years ago. Victim outreach has taken place, the diocese reports.
•An accused priest died the same year in the 1990s when he was accused of sexual abuse that occurred in the early 1960s.
•The diocese reports it has no jurisdiction over another retired priest who is accused of sexual abuse in the early 1960s and now lives outside the diocese.
•Allegations of sexual abuse by three Benedictine priests who served in the Davenport Diocese in the 1960s were investigated in 2002. One of them was deceased at the time of the allegations; the whereabouts of the second is unknown; and the third was removed from the ministry.
•Another priest had been deceased for many years when allegations of abuse by him in the 1960s were made in 1998. The report states professional counseling was offered.
•The diocese also received a report of abuse against a 17-year-old member of the Franciscan Brothers of Christ the King — a group of lay people, not clergy — by two other members of the group in the 1970s. The accusations were reported to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where the group was based, and it ultimately was disbanded.
•James Leu was arrested in 1989 for the sexual abuse of minors while he was assigned to St. Mary’s Church, Lone Tree. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in the state prison. He is forbidden from public ministry and is restricted to saying private Mass and living a life of prayer and penance. Leu’s case also is being sent to Rome with the recommendation his present status be maintained.
•Diocesan investigator Jim Sweeney has been assigned to investigate allegations against two priests for incidents that occurred in the 1990s.
The report states none of the priests against whom allegations had been made are in public ministry nor are they permitted to have any ministerial or priestly contact with children.
Two lawsuits have been settled in the 50-year period — one for $22,500, and the other, which involved two claimants, for $175,000 each. The claims were paid by insurers.
In addition, the diocese has spent over $50,000 for programs directly affecting child safety since 2003.
Plaintiffs in 12 lawsuits which have been filed in three eastern Iowa counties claim diocese officials failed to take action against the priests they accuse of abusing them when they were boys.
While the diocese has failed to acknowledge responsibility for its inaction regarding allegations by victims, Franklin did offer an apology to them Wednesday.
“I am sorry for any pain, agony and suffering caused by any action of any priest you trusted and wanted to trust,” he said.
“What happened never should have happened. It was not your fault. I humbly apologize for any shortcomings and misunderstandings that may have occurred when some of you came forward to report abuse,” Franklin continued.
The bishop said his hope is the sharing of information about past abuses will be seen as a sign of the diocese’s effort to provide help in ongoing recovery.
He and the diocese, he said, are committed to a zero-tolerance policy that requires priests and deacons to be removed from public ministry if there is cause to believe they sexually abused a minor at any time.
In addition, the diocese is taking steps to prevent future incidences of sexual abuse of minors by requiring all priests, deacons and candidates for ordination as well as every staff member and volunteers who have regular contact with children to complete the “Protecting God’s Children” training program.
“There is prevention in awareness,” Franklin said, noting more than 4,000 people in the diocese have been trained. Those working regularly with children also must submit to a criminal background check by the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation.
The diocese also has hired James M. Sweeney of James M. Sweeney and Associates to investigate current allegations of child sexual abuse. The victim also may report such abuse directly to law enforcement, Franklin acknowledged.
The bishop said he has gone to parishes and met with victims and will continue to do so in addition to providing counseling and spiritual direction in order to facilitate healing for those in need.
However, when he was questioned about how he and the diocese will reach out to victims who no longer are sitting in the pews of Catholic churches or who no longer are in the area, Franklin said, “I need all the help I can get.
“The media reaches people I don’t have contact with. Your stories and news pieces may reach some I cannot reach.”
That said, Franklin also invited victims who wish to report abuse to contact an independent resource, Tom Crowley, who is acting as the diocese’s new victim assistance coordinator.
Victims may call him at any time at 563-349-5002; contact him by e-mail at <email@example.com>; or write him at PO Box 232, Bettendorf, IA 52722-0004.
A diocesan review board also has been established to review the investigation results of sexual abuse allegations, Franklin said. The review board, whose members include the Hon. Clarence Darrow, a Rock Island attorney who is a member of St. Anthony’s Parish, Davenport; Catherine Fouts of Newton, president of the Diocesan Board of Education; Bernard Hardick, a John Deere retiree who is a member of Christ the King Parish, Moline; Msgr. James Parizek, a promoter of justice for the diocese and pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish, Davenport; and Chris McCormick-Pries, an advanced registered nurse practitioner, certified in child and adolescent psychiatric and mental health nursing.
And finally, Franklin said, the diocese is interested, with the assistance of its insurers, in resolving pending litigation and claims honorably and fairly.
“The diocese is willing to enter into non-binding mediation for
those interested in attempting to privately resolve claims free from time-consuming
and expensive litigation.”
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