Bishop Accountability
  Give Diocese Another Option

By Jeff Tecklenberg
Muscatine Journal
March 22, 2004

Last month, Clinton County District Court Judge C.H. Pelton ordered the Diocese of Davenport to turn over documents with names of people who came forward over the past 50 years to complain of sex abuse by Catholic priests. Pelton ruled the documents must be made available to the attorney for the plaintiff - a John Doe of Clinton County - who filed a lawsuit against the Diocese and a retired priest, The Rev. James Janssen.

The Diocese appealed the judge's order to the Iowa Supreme Court. The appeal claims that Pelton's ruling would force the church to reveal the identities of those who brought their complaints to church leaders with the understanding they would remain confidential.

The plaintiff and his attorney say they need the names and the information on the Diocese documents for their evidence-gathering purposes.

The Diocese points out that Judge Pelton's ruling is one-sided because it prevents the Diocese from using the plaintiff's identity to question prospective witnesses or seek background evidence to defend its position.

Something is missing here.

We certainly agree that priests charged with sexually abusing children or adults should be prosecuted as any other defendant should be. This is a serious, horrible crime - a felony.

There's no doubt that in many dioceses across this country, Catholic Church leaders ignored or covered up the problem of abusive priests for far too long. We believe the bishop and officials of the Diocese of Davenport and other dioceses should do whatever they can to help ensure justice is served wherever abuse occurred and prevent it from happening again.

But we also agree that the Diocese has an obligation to respect the wishes of alleged victims who came forward and requested or expected confidentiality. If a person does not want to bring his complaints to police for resolution in a court of criminal law or in civil court via a lawsuit, why should the courts force the Diocese to turn over his or her name to an attorney for a plaintiff in another case?

The Diocese should have another option.

The Diocese should be allowed to ask those who requested confidentiality whether they would be willing to release their identifies to the attorney for John Doe.

A signed statement could be forwarded. Their names could still be protected from general release to the public. The court should supervise the procedure.

And the extra step would help serve justice and respect for all.


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