Bishop Accountability
  Diocese Appeals Judge’s Decision

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
August 13, 2004,1033109

The Catholic Diocese of Davenport has appealed a judge’s decision to not throw out two lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests more than 30 years ago on the basis of a statute of limitations.

The diocese is asking the Iowa Supreme Court to review District Judge C.H. Pelton’s decision in July that a jury should decide whether the plaintiffs qualify for possible exemptions in the statute that bars old cases from being filed, diocese attorneys said Friday.

The plaintiffs — James Wells and a man identified only as John Doe III — argued in court proceedings that a jury should determine whether fraudulent concealment by church officials or mental illness prevented the plaintiffs from filing their lawsuits in a timely manner.

“We highly disagree that those are appropriate defenses to the statute of limitations in these cases,” diocese attorney Rand Wonio said Friday.

Attorneys for the diocese and the priests argued that the passage of time since the actions alleged in the lawsuits makes them impossible to defend.

In the lawsuits, which allege sexual abuse by the Rev. James Janssen, the Rev. Francis Bass and the Rev. Theodore Geerts, the plaintiffs were “cognizant of their claims years ago,” Wonio said.

The diocese said it would be in the interest of justice for the Supreme Court to decide these legal issues before any of the lawsuits go to trial and has asked the state’s highest court to postpone trials scheduled for 13 such lawsuits in Scott and Clinton counties.

“We think these same issues are going to come up in every single one,” Wonio said.

Those lawsuits are scheduled about one per month from November to October 2005, Pelton said last month.

The diocese also has moved for dismissal, due to statute-of-limitations issues, in three other lawsuits filed in Scott and Clinton counties and plans to file more such motions, Wonio said.

The attorney for 18 men alleging sexual abuse by priests in the diocese said the application for what is known as interlocutory appeal shows the diocese’s continued stubborn litigiousness.

“Their efforts are being made to delay those trials,” Davenport attorney Craig Levien said about the application for appeal. “I think it’s consistent with appealing every adverse legal ruling.”

The diocese and plaintiffs still plan to try to settle the lawsuits during five days in September, the attorneys said.

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

Attorneys on both sides could not pin down a specific time frame for the Supreme Court decision on the request to appeal.

The court previously denied a similar diocese request to appeal after Pelton ruled it must provide Levien with a list of victims’ names.

Diocese attorneys argued that the decision forced church leaders to reveal the identities of people who expected their names to remain confidential when they came forward with sexual abuse complaints.

Levien said the diocese still has not turned over those and other records, and he has filed a motion to compel that information due to 14 months of “ongoing and unjustified delays.”

Pelton has not ruled on that motion.

The diocese did not ask to appeal a similar decision made in May by a district judge in Lee County, Iowa, who denied its similar effort seeking dismissal of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed there against Vicar General Drake Shafer.

That judge also said statute-of-limitations issues would be best decided by a jury.

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


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