Bishop Accountability
  Judge Hears Diocese Sex Abuse Motions

By Todd Ruger
Quad-Cities Times
July 30, 2004,1032171

The attorney for men alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport more than 20 years ago demanded that church leaders turn over priest personnel files and other records Friday as trial dates for their lawsuits loom four months away.

The diocese holdup is preventing the men from preparing for trials and expanding the required pre-trial work by attorneys, attorney Craig Levien told District Court Judge C.H. Pelton on Friday.

“When do these men who have been injured get to see this information,” Levien said, calling for sanctions against the diocese for a 14-month delay. “Perhaps we’ve been too patient.”

Pelton, who cited the separation of church and state in being “very reluctant” to sanction the diocese, will rule at a later date on Levien’s motion to force the diocese to turn over the documents.

Diocese attorney Rand Wonio told the judge he was “disappointed” at Levien’s request for sanctions, since both attorneys agreed to instead focus on insurance report letters needed to help in mediations of the cases outside of the courtroom.

The diocese and 18 plaintiffs will try to settle lawsuits during five days in September, Wonio said.

The jury trials for lawsuits in Scott and Clinton counties are scheduled to begin in November, with about one trial per month scheduled through October 2005, Pelton told a Scott County courtroom with about 40 spectators, including a priest and parishioners from Grand Mound, Iowa.

Pelton said from the bench that the processing of the cases could follow trends in other instances where there are multiple lawsuits, such as asbestos cases or plane crashes.

“It’s highly likely after the first two or three are decided, the others will be resolved,” said Pelton, the judge assigned to all sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese in Scott and Clinton counties.

Levien has said 19 men — in addition to those who have actually filed lawsuits — are seeking to mediate their cases without having to file lawsuits themselves.

Pelton also will rule on a diocese motion to eliminate some of the claims against it in one of the lawsuits, arguing in part that it had no legal duty to inform parishes of past sexual misconduct by priests.

“There is no duty to warn in Iowa,” diocese attorney Robert McMonagle told the judge. “Where there is no duty, there can be no breach.”

McMonagle said the U.S. Constitution states that courts cannot evaluate a religious policy or practice of dealing with employees because it can tread on a multitude of religious beliefs, “specifically sin, penance and repentance.”

But plaintiff attorney Patrick Noaker said that definition of freedom of religion “just doesn’t sit right.”

He said the information of past sexual misconduct by priests would have been critical to the parents of plaintiffs years ago, when they were considering whether to send their kids on out-of-state trips with priests named in the lawsuits.

“The Constitution does not protect putting pedophile priests in parishes,” he said. “A jury might find that outrageous and there is grounds for the case to proceed.”

Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or


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