Bishop Accountability
  Diocese Wants Negligence Claims Dropped against Accused Priests

By Todd Dvorak
Associated Press, Carried in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
July 31, 2004

DAVENPORT -- Claims that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport mismanaged abusive priests and deliberately caused victims emotional distress should be dropped from a lawsuit, diocese attorneys argued Friday.

Meanwhile, attorneys for the victim known only as John Doe 1-A asked District Judge C.H. Pelton to force the diocese to turn over hundreds of pages of documents deemed necessary to prepare for trial.

The hearing in Scott County District Court covered an assortment of motions in one of 15 lawsuits filed against the church and priests who worked in parishes scattered throughout the diocese in the last 50 years.

Earlier this month, Pelton rejected a diocese request to dismiss Doe's lawsuit entirely.

That decision forced diocese attorneys to explore a different strategy, targeting the dismissal of specific claims alleged in the lawsuit.

For example, attorneys said the diocese should not be subject to negligence claims for the way it supervised the Rev. James Janssen, a priest accused in the Doe lawsuit and others.

The lawsuit blames the diocese for not notifying parishioners of Janssen's behavior and failure to supervise and document his harmful conduct.

But defense attorney Robert McMonagle said asking the court to evaluate diocesan personnel matters would violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

"The plaintiff asks the court to tread on constitutionally forbidden terrain," McMonagle said.

The diocese also asked Pelton to dismiss claims the diocese violated fiduciary duties and allegations the diocese intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the victim.

An attorney for the plaintiff said the high ranking church officials had a duty to supervise priests such as Janssen and protect the children who trusted priests from harm.

"The diocese can do what it wants in hiring ... but when someone is injured, the diocese has a civil liability," said Patrick Noaker, a member of the legal team for Doe 1-A and 15 other former parishioners suing the diocese.

Attorneys from both sides announced they will begin negotiating in September to reach a mediated settlement of the 16 lawsuit cases and 19 others that have not yet been filed with the court.

Pelton also heard arguments about whether the court should force the diocese to hand over documents sought for more than 14 months by plaintiffs and whether to penalize the church for stalling.

Plaintiff attorney Craig Levien said the diocese has tried every legal trick in the book to avoid handing over the files. He said the files of Janssen, those of 19 other priests who have been accused of sexual abuse and the complaints made by parishioners are critical to preparing for the series of upcoming trials.

The first trial is scheduled to begin in November.

Levien recounted how Pelton ordered the diocese to hand over the documents last fall, and an appeal was denied by the state Supreme Court in January.

"When do these men who have been injured get to see this information," Levien said. "We've waited too long, your honor."

Diocese attorney Rand Wanio said the delay was due to an understanding reached with Levien to focus time preparing for mediation talks, not the countless hours necessary to review and hand over papers.

Pelton said he was reluctant to sanction the diocese, citing the separation of church and state. He also gave no deadline for issuing decisions.


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