Bishop Accountability
  Negotiations Cease with Former Priest

By Kay Luna
Quad-City Times
October 30, 2004

CLINTON, Iowa — The attorney for former Catholic priest James Janssen publicly ceased negotiations Friday to settle civil cases by plaintiffs accusing Janssen of sexually abusing them as children, claiming the offer required too much money.

One day after the Catholic Diocese of Davenport announced a $9 million settlement with 37 plaintiffs in Clinton and Scott county cases, Quad-City attorney Edward Wehr questioned why the plaintiffs want trials against the accused priests to go forward. He called a settlement offer made Thursday financially unrealistic for the former priest.

At this point, trials are expected to move forward against Janssen, recently removed from the priesthood by the pope, and four other accused priests: The Rev. Francis Bass, the Rev. William Wiebler, the late Rev. Theodore Geerts and Vicar General Monsignor Drake Shafer.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Craig Levien, said his clients are not as interested in monetary damages from the priests as they are proving publicly the men did sexually abuse them.

“It may be necessary to try these cases,” Levien said. “It is the plaintiffs’ desire to get the truth out, and they are willing to go to court for that if necessary.”

Levien’s settlement offer asked for $10,000 for each of the eight alleged victims suing him.

The offer also asked Janssen to admit to the abuse, agree to voluntarily seek treatment and remove himself from the public, Levien said in a heated exchange with Wehr during a motion hearing Friday before District Judge C.H. Pelton in Clinton County District Court chambers.

Levien said Janssen’s attorney came back with a counter-offer to settle the cases, but Wehr said those efforts “have now failed.”

“There’s no way he’s going to come up with money like that,” Wehr said about Janssen’s financial situation.

Meanwhile, the first civil trial against Janssen will not proceed Monday in Clinton County District Court as initially planned. The plaintiff, known as John Doe 1A, and his attorney asked to postpone the trial after Levien spent the past several weeks in serious settlement negotiations with the diocese.

“It’s a completely different case than it was a week ago,” Pelton said.

The plaintiffs also requested that the remaining cases against Janssen and Bass be consolidated, which Pelton will decide at a later date.

Levien said 13 lawsuits, in which he represents 16 plaintiffs, still are pending against the priests. He said consolidating all the cases against Janssen and Bass into one case could save time.

Wehr and the attorney representing Bass, Michael McCarthy, spoke strongly against consolidation, claiming that calling witnesses accusing both men would prejudice the jury. They also said the facts of the cases are not similar.

Wehr questioned why Levien filed the civil cases one at a time, rather than combining them into one case as he now wants.

“It certainly served its purpose, getting more adverse publicity for Father Janssen, Bass and the diocese,” Wehr said. “All I know is, this case should be put behind us.”

In court documents, plaintiffs’ statements describe their abuse by priests from 20 to 50 years ago in lurid detail, including sex acts, naked card parties, masturbation contests between boys and the fondling of an altar boy while entering the church for Mass.

The allegations come from parishes across the 22-county diocese covering southeast Iowa, mostly following the priests as they were moved from assignment to assignment. The pope removed Janssen from the priesthood after seeing documents that showed abuse complaints followed him from parish to parish over his 56-year career.

Wehr said when the civil trials against Janssen do happen, it could be difficult to find a “fair and impartial jury in Clinton County.”

Kay Luna can be contacted at

(563) 243-5039 or


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