Bishop Accountability
  Judge Denies Diocese of Davenport’s Request for Dismissal

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
May 5, 2004

A district judge in Lee County, Iowa, has denied attempts by the Catholic Diocese of Davenport and Vicar General Drake Shafer to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges sexual abuse on his part more than 30 years ago.

Attorneys for Shafer and the diocese argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiff, a West Burlington man identified only as “John Doe” in court documents, filed it after the two-year statute of limitations expired.

But Judge John G. Linn said in his ruling that the issues surrounding whether Doe filed the lawsuit in a timely matter are best decided by a jury.

Those issues include whether an e-mail message sent by Doe shows he had ongoing knowledge of the injuries caused by the alleged abuse and whether Doe can utilize a mental illness exception to the statute of limitations.

The diocese claimed that the April 2002 e-mail from Doe to Shafer shows Doe has known on a daily basis for 27 years about any injuries and their cause.

According to Linn’s ruling Doe’s e-mail message references a “night in a hotel room when a very young man was taken advantage of” and says that, “For approximately twenty-seven years, I have ask (sic) God to help me with an issue I’ve had to live with.”

Linn said in his ruling that reasonable minds could differ on the interpretation of that e-mail.

“Fact questions exist regarding when plaintiff remembered the alleged abuse and discovered the nexus between that abuse and the claimed injury,” the judge wrote. “These are questions for the fact-finder.”

Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said Wednesday that he was not surprised by the ruling.

“The plaintiff is seeking money damages in excess of $1.3 million, plus punitive damages,” Wonio said. “The diocese joined in the defendant priest’s motion for summary judgment because it believes it should have the same rights and protections from huge money judgments that the laws of Iowa provide to all defendants.”

In arguments on the motion to dismiss the case, Doe argued that the statute should be waived because post-traumatic stress disorder caused him to suppress the memory until 2002.

Also read during the March court arguments was an e-mail message in which it appears Shafer admits to sexually abusing a teenage boy 30 years ago.

He wrote in an April 5, 2002, e-mail to the alleged victim that the incident during the 1970s “was the only time in my priesthood when anything remotely like it happened.”

Shafer’s job as vicar general, one of the top administrative positions in the diocese, included investigating abuse allegations against other priests.

He was put on leave in July until allegations of sexual abuse from the 1970s against him are resolved.

The defendant contends in his lawsuit that Shafer abused him when he was 14 or 15, in 1973 or 1974. Besides Shafer and the diocese, the lawsuit names as a defendant St. Mary of Assumption Church in Fort Madison, where Shafer was a priest.

Shafer denied the allegation when the lawsuit was filed last year.

The diocese faces 14 civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of boys by priests 20 to 50 years ago. The plaintiffs seek damages and claim that church leaders failed to take action against the priests even though they were aware of inappropriate sexual contact having taken place.

In two other lawsuits, the diocese has filed motions to dismiss based on the statue of limitations having been exceeded. Wonio said those cases have different sets of facts.

Doe’s attorney, Roxanne Barton Conlin of Des Moines, and Shafer’s attorney, Peter Fieweger, were in trials Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, office workers told the Quad-City Times.


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