By Todd Ruger
Two men who allege sexual misconduct by priests in lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Davenport have responded to diocese attempts to dismiss their cases with nearly 300 pages of legal arguments and church documents.
The new court filings in Scott County District Court by plaintiffs John Doe III and James Wells call the church documents a “chilling story” of a diocese cover-up of sexual abuse more than 30 years ago by three diocese priests, including documents as recent as a February report from Bishop William Franklin.
While the diocese claims the lawsuits should be dismissed because they were filed after the statute of limitations expired, the plaintiffs claim the diocese prevented the men from filing timely lawsuits by fraudulently concealing other abuse allegations against the priests — the Rev. James Janssen, the Rev. Francis Bass and the Rev. Theodore Geerts.
The responses by the plaintiffs set the stage for an all-day court battle June 3 on whether the cases should continue in court.
Earlier this month, a Lee County district judge denied a similar attempt by the diocese to dismiss a sex-abuse lawsuit filed in that county, saying that statute of limitations issues would be best decided by a jury.
Friday’s filings in the John Doe III case in Scott County included church documents from priest personnel files, such as handwritten notes from the bishop and memos detailing complaints against Janssen as far back as the 1950s.
The plaintiffs had no idea any of this information was in the diocese files, the plaintiffs’ attorney Craig Levien said Monday in a phone interview.
“All of that was fraudulently concealed from John Doe III and John Doe III’s parents,” he said of the man who alleges abuse in a Fort Madison, Iowa, parish in 1962. “They had no idea what was being sent down there.”
Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said he has not seen the response filings, but said the only way the diocese could respond would be to include court documents from the bishop in the 1950s.
“It was a bishop struggling to know what to do from the eyes of someone in the 1950s, when everyone had a lot less awareness of what this problem is,” Wonio said. “We know that now. The hard lesson has been learned.”
The filings also include an affidavit from John Doe III that states “there were so many instances of sex with the three priests, especially Janssen, that I can’t give an accurate number.”
Janssen and other priests have denied all accusations of sexual abuse in court records.
In the filings, Levien characterized a February report by the diocese and Bishop William Franklin, which the diocese intended as a full disclosure of sexual abuse reports in priest personnel files over 50 years, as being “the single most telling piece of evidence of fraudulent concealment by the diocese.”
The report quoted a letter by a Loyola University doctor advising that Janssen “can become a very understanding and acceptable pastor… not likely to fall into past errors.”
Levien claims in court documents that the report did not include the next two sentences of the letter that strongly emphasize that it is urgent and essential for Janssen to have a particularly understanding spiritual director and frequent contact with the doctor.
Levien said those instructions were not followed, and Janssen continued to abuse boys as a priest at an unsupervised parish.
“The deletion of the psychologist’s warning by Bishop Franklin from his report is direct evidence that even in February of 2004, the diocese is concealing the full truth it knew about Janssen’s dangerous perversions,” Levien states in the court record.
Wonio called that statement “absolutely baseless,” adding
that the diocese gave the public a summary of the information and nothing
was held out. “It was a full, fair and honest report,” Wonio
said, adding that Janssen had a spiritual advisor throughout his career.
“That report included an acknowledgement that mistakes were made
in the handling of Father Janssen a long time ago.”
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