Bishop Accountability
  Davenport Diocese Sued in California

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
June 4, 2004

A Colorado man has again sued the Davenport Catholic Diocese and a priest who allegedly abused him more than 30 years ago.

The second lawsuit was filed in California, where the alleged victim, identified in court papers as John Doe II, said the Rev. James Janssen sexually abused him on a trip to San Diego.

The first lawsuit against the diocese, two parishes and Janssen was filed Dec. 30 in Iowa.

The newest lawsuit was filed one day before the expiration of a California law that suspended the state's statute of limitations so that no matter how long ago the sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred, victims can sue individuals, churches and other involved institutions.

Similar legislation died in the Iowa Legislature this year.

The California lawsuit alleges that in 1967 or 1968, while Janssen was pastor of the Sugar Creek church, he took John Doe II to a nude beach and sexually abused him, according to the complaint.

In a letter to Davenport Catholics included in the diocese announcement of the lawsuit, Bishop William E. Franklin said lawyers for the diocese in Iowa and California are rightly using the protections of statutes of limitations to save the diocese from bankruptcy.

"These statutes exist to protect all defendants from the prosecutions of claims that are too old," Franklin wrote. "Over time, memories of witnesses fade, evidence is lost or never found, and witnesses die. This leaves the diocese unable to adequately defend itself because all the facts and circumstances that existed can never be known."

Franklin said diocese officials have asked the alleged victim's lawyers how much money it would take to settle the lawsuits. In some cases, the amount was millions, the bishop said.

"The financial assets of the diocese are limited and large damage payments will jeopardize the current good works of the church," Franklin wrote. "The diocese believes that asking current members of the church to pay large damage awards for misconduct that occurred decades ago is unfair."

Diocese lawsuits

What's New: Attorneys for two former Roman Catholic priests named in sexual abuse lawsuits argued Thursday that the claims should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired.

Background: The allegations against the Rev. James Janssen and the Rev. Francis Bass, both 82, date back to the late 1950s and early 1960s. The lawsuits also name the Diocese of Davenport. At least 16 lawsuits have been filed.

Request: Attorneys for the priests asked Judge C.H. Pelton to toss out the cases because the allegations are more than 30 years old. They cited lost evidence; timeworn memories of potential witnesses; and state law that sets legal deadlines for filing such lawsuits.

Elsewhere: Dioceses across the nation have made similar arguments about the age of the allegations with varying results. In Kentucky, a mediator is working on a compensation fund in the nation's first class-action lawsuit filed against a diocese by victims of sexual abuse. Claims date back to 1956.

Iowa: In 1997, the Iowa Legislature gave victims up to four years to file a claim after a traumatic act, but attorneys say the law was not designed to be applied retroactively.


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