DIOCESE OF DAVENPORT IA
By Todd Ruger
The plaintiffs, nine of whom have been identified only as “John Doe,” claim church leaders failed to take action against the priests even though they were aware inappropriate sexual contact had taken place.
A diocese report released Wednesday details allegations of abuse by priests named as defendants in civil lawsuits and stated that it was “clearly a mistake” for one priest to have been reassigned to public ministry after 1956.
The diocese and the priests named in the lawsuits have denied plaintiffs’ claims in court records. They also have made motions to dismiss some of the cases, arguing that the claims are too old.
Bishop William Franklin, in a statement released Wednesday, offered to enter into settlement discussions with those claiming damages as a result of sexual abuse by priests.
Davenport attorney Craig Levien, who represents clients in 10 of those cases, said the announcement at a news conference was the first he had heard of the diocese wanting to settle through mediation.
It is too early to attach values to any damages, he said, adding, “If they want to make offers, we’d be willing to settle these.”
The diocese has made $377,500 in settlements, paid by insurers, to three people since 1950, its report states.
Diocese attorney Rand Wonio of Davenport said that if plaintiffs demand a “vast amount” of money, “we will be forced to fight these cases.
“The diocese isn’t exactly flush with diamonds and gold and money,” he said.
The lawsuits also seek damages from five priests, all of whom were mentioned in the diocese report Wednesday:
n The Rev. James Janssen is named in eight of those lawsuits filed in Scott and Clinton counties. He retired in 1991, and the diocese revoked his ability to perform public priestly duties shortly thereafter. The report stated that it was “clearly a mistake” to reassign him to any of the eight parishes in which he served after being put on leave in 1956 for apparent sexual misconduct.
n The Rev. Francis Bass is named in three of the lawsuits filed in Clinton County and one in Scott County. He retired in 1992. The report states that more than two credible allegations of abuse were reported against him. His attorney said he will continue fighting the lawsuits.
The diocese continues to investigate allegations against three other priests named in lawsuits, the report states. They were not included in the diocese report.
n The Rev. Theodore Geerts is named in one lawsuit filed in Scott County. He left the priesthood in 1969 and lives in a California nursing home.
n Vicar General Drake Shafer, the second-ranking diocesan official, is named in a Lee County lawsuit. He is on a leave of absence until the lawsuit is disposed.
n Another lawsuit filed in Lee County names the Rev. Martin Diamond, now deceased.
Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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