Bishop Accountability
  Diocese Challenges Law in Abuse Case
The California Measure Suspended the Statute of Limitations for Clergy Abuse Victims to Seek Damages

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
June 30, 2004

The Diocese of Davenport is challenging a California law that suspended the civil statute of limitations and permitted victims of decades-old sexual abuse by priests to seek damages in court.

Attorneys for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said they plan to ask permission to join Davenport's challenge.

The Davenport Diocese is facing 16 lawsuits connected to the Catholic Church sexual-abuse scandal that has swept the nation. The Los Angeles Archdiocese has more than 400 similar lawsuits filed against it.

If successful, the Davenport legal maneuver could have far-reaching implications for the hundreds of lawsuits filed in California under the law's one-year window, according to J. Michael Hennigan, attorney for the Diocese of Los Angeles.

On Dec. 30, the day before the window of opportunity closed, the Davenport Diocese was sued in San Diego district court by a Colorado man who alleged that the Rev. James Janssen of Davenport sexually abused him on a 1968 trip to California. The lawsuit was referred to federal court because the case involves an Iowa diocese, a Colorado plaintiff and a California law.

The Davenport counterclaim was filed on May 25. In it the diocese maintains the California law violates the church's religious freedom protections and other constitutional rights. It states the law should be declared void because it targets and punishes Catholic institutions and is the product of a group of "powerful plaintiffs' attorneys."

Rand Wonio, attorney for the Davenport Diocese, said that in filing the lawsuit, Bishop William Franklin is merely following the advice of the diocese's San Diego lawyer, Susan Oliver. Oliver declined to comment.


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