Attorney Asks That Priest Be Assigned Outside Q-C

By Todd Ruger
Quad-City Times
September 17, 2004,1035357

An attorney representing men who allege sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Diocese of Davenport said he has asked church leaders to assign the Rev. James Janssen to a monastery outside of the Quad-Cities.

Attorney Craig Levien said he’s concerned about Janssen — the priest sued most often in the Davenport diocese — and other accused priests living in the general population of Davenport.

Janssen, the Rev. Francis Bass and the Rev. Frank Martinez, three of the five priests the diocese has formally asked the Vatican to remove from the priesthood, live at the diocese’s 2706 N. Gaines St. headquarters with other retired priests, the diocese said Thursday.

“I saw Father Janssen and Father Bass at the local grocery store,” Levien said. “I’m very concerned about the safety of children they come into contact with.”

Meanwhile, another diocesan priest who admitted abusing several children during the 1970s and 1980s and faces four lawsuits in Iowa is now living just a few hundred feet from a St. Louis-area grade school, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday.

The Rev. William Wiebler, 72, who left the Quad-Cities area in 1985, was sent two years ago by the Davenport diocese to the St. John Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo., south of St. Louis, after admitting to the abuse.

But he has left that center and is living in an apartment in University City, about 750 feet from Delmar-Harvard Elementary School and about 1,500 feet from Julia Goldstein Preschool.

The diocese is seeking to defrock Wiebler and the Rev. Richard Poster, who was committed to federal prison in March for a 12-month sentence for possession of child pornography.

Vicar General Monsignor Drake Shafer, on leave of absence from the Davenport diocese pending a civil lawsuit alleging decades-old sexual abuse of a minor, lives at a private residence in the 900 block of West Lombard Street, the diocese said.

Another priest named in a lawsuit, Anthony Geerts, died Sept. 4 in a nursing home in California, the diocese said Thursday. None of the priests have been charged with any crime. The defrocking process can often take several years.

Levien said his clients are concerned about the priests being out in the general population.

He said he asked Bishop William Franklin to send Janssen to a monastery in Dubuque to “scrub floors and weed gardens until the day he died.”

“They haven’t done it and I think their claim is that they can’t do it,” he said.

Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said Levien’s comments speak to information Levien and his clients agreed would be part of confidential mediation discussions.

“I’m not going to violate that confidentiality agreement by commenting,” Wonio said.

Levien said he made his request to move Janssen during a deposition of Franklin long before mediations.

In St. Louis, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, handed out more than 100 informational leaflets Thursday containing excerpts from the Post-Dispatch story in Wiebler’s neighborhood.

“Psychology and history and common sense all tell us a change of location or job title is no cure for pedophilia,” said David Clohessy, SNAP executive director. “And arguably, without parish duties, he has even more time on his hands to pursue kids.”

Diocese officials told the Post-Dispatch that Wiebler “is beyond our power,” and told the area prosecutor when the priest wouldn’t go back to treatment.

“We implored him to stay,” Wonio said. “We don’t want anyone else to be victimized by this man, but our legal right to force him to do anything is limited.”

The Rev. Peter Lechner, director of St. John Vianney Renewal Center, would not comment on specific priests. He said it is the responsibility of the diocese and bishop where the priest comes from, not the treatment center, to know a problem priest’s location in the community.

Neighbors described Wiebler to the Post-Dispatch as “quite eccentric,” “overly friendly and enthusiastic” and “bizarre.” Mimi Hubert, Wiebler’s upstairs neighbor, said he often sits dressed in only a thin robe on a back porch swing.

Wiebler was a priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, Iowa, until 1985, when he moved to Mississippi until his retirement in 1991.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)

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


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