Defrocked Priest Sentenced to 180 Days in Jail

By Ann McGlynn
The Quad-City Times
January 9, 2008

[See the 11/6/07 Ruling finding Janssen in contempt, and the 1/9/08 Order that he serve 180 days in jail for failing to purge himself of contempt. See also Judge Tells Ex-Priest's Sister to Hand over Assets, by Ann McGlynn, Quad-City Times, January 9, 2008, with link to the ruling in that case.]

A defrocked priest will spend 180 days in the Scott County Jail after he failed to produce $80,000 in missing savings bonds to be put toward a $1.4 million judgment against him for sexually abusing his nephew.

In addition, the documentation James Janssen did provide possibly showed he is hiding $80,000 more in bonds than the $80,000 he was ordered to hand over.

Janssen, 86, is required to report to the jail by 10 a.m. today, Scott County District Judge Bobbi Alpers ruled Tuesday.

The documentation Janssen provided to the court was "too little, too late," Alpers said. The 180-day sentence is the most jail time allowed for contempt of court.

"I did all I could do," Janssen said as he left the courtroom, referring to documents he turned over to the court.

The defrocked priest was ordered by a jury 2 years ago to pay his nephew, James Wells, $1.4 million for nine years of sex abuse suffered, beginning at age 5. An analysis by an accountant hired by Wells showed that Janssen did not account for $80,000 in savings bonds.

In November, Janssen, of 4315 W. High St., Davenport, was given two months to hand over the savings bonds.

On Monday, after the hearing was delayed for one day, Janssen's attorney, Mike Tobey, provided Wells' attorneys with a packet of documents that included a hand-written list of $80,000 in bonds and their serial numbers.

Accountant Gary Shapley testified, however, the bonds did not match the denominations of the bonds he discovered missing. He further testified that the list of bonds produced Monday may be additional bonds that Wells and his attorneys were not aware of previously.

Janssen testified he believes he gave the bonds on the new list to his sister, Dorothy Janssen. She also is facing a lawsuit by James Wells, alleging she helped James Janssen hide $712,000 in assets when the lawsuits alleging he sexually abused several children began. A ruling on that lawsuit was issued Tuesday afternoon.

When asked where he got the information on the list of bonds, Janssen said that he could not remember and that his financial documents are not organized.

"The game of hide-and-seek continues," said Craig Levien, who represents Wells and several other priest sex abuse victims from the Diocese of Davenport. Wells filed his lawsuit in 2003. Levien requested jail time, saying nothing is more "poisonous" to the court system than contempt of court.

Janssen was removed from the priesthood in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

Believed to be the first-ever Davenport priest to be defrocked, Janssen was ordained in 1948. He held several positions in Clinton County, at St. Joseph Parish in Sugar Creek, St. Irenaeus Parish in Clinton, St. Patrick's Parish in Delmar, St. Mary Parish in Bryant and Ss. Philip and James Parish in Grand Mound.

He also served as pastor in Davenport at St. Paul the Apostle, St. Mary's and St. Anthony parishes and at other churches in Burlington, East Pleasant Plain, Fort Madison, Holbrook and Newton. He also served as a Boy Scout chaplain. His last diocesan job in Grand Mound ended in 1990.

Janssen was a defendant in several civil suits alleging sex abuse, including the one filed by Wells. The others were dismissed after the victims reached settlements with the diocese.

All told, sex abuse cases in the Diocese of Davenport have cost the diocese and its insurer more than $47 million. That number includes a recent $37 million settlement in the diocese's bankruptcy case and $10 million paid to 45 victims before the diocese filed for bankruptcy in October 2006.

The diocese's bankruptcy reorganization plan, which will specifically detail how the diocese will emerge from bankruptcy, is due Jan. 31.

Davenport joined four other dioceses — in Tucson, San Diego, Spokane and Portland, Ore. — in filing for bankruptcy. It filed after Michl Uhde of Davenport won a $1.5 million jury verdict for abuse by the now-dead Monsignor Thomas Feeney. The diocese was set to go to trial on a second case shortly after it filed for bankruptcy protection.


Officials from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded the decision to jail defrocked priest James Janssen. They think Janssen is the first priest or former priest in the country to be jailed for contempt in relation to a sex abuse case.

"Time and time again, corrupt bishops and predatory priests have, in civil proceedings, ignored deadlines, perjured themselves and disregarded court orders, and are rarely punished," a statement from SNAP said. "It's reassuring to see a pedophile priest being treated as other criminals are treated, with no special consideration or favors or deference."

Ann McGlynn can be contacted at (563) 383-2336 or


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