Notorious Iowa Predator Priest Passes

June 22, 2015

One of Iowa’s most prolific predator priests has passed away and a victims’ group wants Davenport Catholic officials to “aggressively seek out and help” others who the priest assaulted.


Fr. James M. Janssen reportedly abusing many boys, often along with other pedophile priests Fr. Francis Bass, Fr. Theodore Anthony Geerts, and Fr. James W. Murphy, and of pimping his victims to Bass, Murphy and Fr. William Wiebler. Janssen allegedly used sacrilege and petty crime to groom his victims, and sometimes took them out of state to abuse them. Janssen's "stable of boys" ranged in ages from 5 to 18. He continued to abuse at least one into his twenties, and he kept in touch with several into their adulthood, according to multiple sources (see

Davenport Catholic officials were “warned about Janssen in 1948 before his first assignment, and he admitted abusing kids to a bishop in 1958. Yet he worked as a priest for 42 years in 14 parishes and was pastor at four of them for a total of 23 years. He was on the Priests' Personnel Board for 13 years and was a Boy Scout chaplain for a decade.

Despite repeated pledges to be “open and transparent” about clergy sex crimes, Janssen’s long-time colleagues and supervisors in the Davenport Catholic diocese apparently has told no one in the public or the parishes. We suspect he didn’t tell police or prosecutors either. Sadly, none of the dozens of current or former Davenport diocesan employees saw fit to spread the news either.

Being honest about the death of a credibly accused predator priest matters for several reasons:

First, it’s comforting when victims know that their perpetrator can no longer hurt any other kids. But that doesn’t happen (or happens years later) if the predator’s death is kept secret.

Second, sometimes victims who are trapped in fear, shame and self-blame feel ‘liberated’ when their perpetrator dies. They are then more apt to speak up, get help, expose wrongdoing and start healing. But that doesn’t happen (or happens years later) if the predator’s death is kept secret.

Third, it’s important and reassuring when bishops keep their promises to be open about clergy sex crimes and cover ups. And it’s distressing – for victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and parishioners – when they do not.

So it’s callous and selfish for bishops and other Catholic staff to keep secret about the death of a pedophile priests.

We call on Davenport Bishop Martin Amos and every single diocesan or parish employee in the Davenport Diocese to show some courage, break their silence, act with compassion and use every possible means to reach out to and help others who were sexually violated by Janssen and his complicit clerical criminal colleagues. It’s not enough for a church official to say “We’re sorry for their crimes.” Church officials must use their vast resources – parish websites, pulpit announcements, new releases and church bulletins – to seek out and console those who have been suffering for decades because of these predators.

Finally, we commend the brave men who were hurt as kids by Janssen and found the strength to expose Janssen and those who protected him for decades and sought – and won – justice in the courts. We hope his passing brings them comfort, knowing that Janssen will no longer ever be able to assault anyone else.


Janssen worked in many Iowa towns including Victor, Burlington, Clinton, Polishville, East Pleasant Plain, Richland, Newton, Holbrook, Dubuque, Delmar, Fort Madison, Sugar Creek, Grand Mound and Davenport His photo and full work history are available at

A Davenport native, Janssen was born in 1922, ordained in 1948, retired in 1991 and defrocked in 2004. He also worked in the Joliet and Dubuque dioceses.

SNAP learned the news of Janssen’s death from Davenport attorney Craig Levien (563.326.4491, ) who represented most of his victims.








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