Bishop Accountability
  Court Won't Throw Out Abuse Claim
The Davenport Catholic Diocese Had Argued That the Lawsuit Was Filed Too Late

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
May 6, 2004

A judge has rejected the Davenport Catholic Diocese's argument that an alleged victim of sex abuse by a priest waited too long to sue.

Lee County District Judge John Linn ruled that a jury should decide the validity of the alleged victim's claim that mental illness kept him from connecting his depression and insomnia to the alleged abuse. The statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit does not apply if a person is mentally ill.

"It's a well-reasoned opinion; it follows the law," said Roxanne Conlin of Des Moines, attorney for the plaintiff identified only as John Doe. "This John Doe is going to have his day in court."

The ruling could be significant because requests to dismiss cases on the ground that time has expired have been used often by defendants during the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic church over the past two years.

"This is a courageous ruling by a district court judge who recognizes how hard it is for victims of clergy abuse to bring a lawsuit against their spiritual father figure and everything they were taught to believe," said Craig Levien, the Davenport lawyer who represents a majority of the plaintiffs who have sued the diocese.

Fifteen lawsuits are pending against the diocese and seven priests.

Doe, who lives in West Burlington, in June sued an unnamed priest, St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church of Fort Madison, and the Davenport Diocese, alleging he was sexually abused in the 1970s.

The Rev. Drake Shafer, who is vicar general of the Davenport Diocese, identified himself as the accused priest.

He is on paid leave pending investigation of the allegations.

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, welcomed the ruling.

"It is shameful that Catholic bishops even raise these kinds of technical legal defenses," Clohessy said. "The least a bishop can do is allow these cases to go forward to be judged on the facts and not take advantage of every conceivable delaying strategy that some high-priced defense attorney can dream up."

Rand Wonio, diocese attorney, said the church "should have the same rights and protections from huge money judgments that the laws of Iowa provide for all defendants."

"We have no plan to appeal," Wonio said.


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