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Davenport Diocese Seeks To Have Five Priests Defrocked

Feb 26, 2004 | AP

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport has asked the Vatican to defrock four priests accused of sexual abuse and a fifth who recently was convicted of downloading child pornography from the Internet.

Bishop William Franklin said Wednesday that the request is an attempt to deal with the crisis facing the Catholic Church over abuse allegations.

His comments came in a report detailing abuse allegations in the diocese over the past 50 years. A copy was being sent to all church members in the diocese.

The four priests in question were accused of abusing children between 1956 and 1986.

"I am sorry for any pain, agony and suffering caused by any action of any priest you trusted and wanted to trust," Franklin said in remarks directed at victims. "Whatever happened should never have happened. It was not your fault."

In 2002, Catholic bishops instituted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which said the penalty for a finding of sexual abuse against a priest should be permanent removal from the ministry. Only the Vatican has the authority to "laicize," or defrock, a priest, but bishops can request it.

David Clohessy, the director of Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests, said his group has been disappointed with the number of priests defrocked by the Vatican for abuse allegations.

"It's not as many as you would think, and not as many as it should be," he said.

Clohessy said seeking to have the priests removed shouldn't be the end of the diocese's responsibility.

"If these men abused, then kids are safe only when they're behind bars," he said.

The priests the diocese wants defrocked are James Janssen, Francis Bass, Frank Martinez, William Wiebler and Richard Poster.

Spokesman David Montgomery said the diocese doesn't know how long it will take for church officials in Rome to answer the request. In the past, the Vatican has sometimes taken years to process what it has viewed as the most drastic step to take against a priest.

Janssen, Bass, Martinez and Wiebler are accused of sexual abuse dating as far back as 1956. Poster was sentenced last month to a year in prison on the child pornography charges.

Janssen was an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newton when he was placed on indefinite leave in 1956 as a result of apparent sexual misconduct. The next year, he returned to parish work after a doctor at Loyola University told then-Bishop Ralph Hayes that Janssen was "not likely to fall into past errors."

In the following decades, Janssen was reassigned to churches in Davenport, Clinton, Fort Madison, Grand Mound and other communities. Sexual misconduct complaints followed him from one parish to another.

One of several recent lawsuits filed against the diocese claims that Janssen took children to an adult movie theater in Clinton. It claims Janssen also took children on an out-of-state trip and encouraged them to shoplift.

Janssen retired in 1991. In 1996, Bishop Franklin ordered him to cease any public activity of a church nature. In 2000, Franklin issued a canonical action ordering Janssen to refrain from any contact with minors.

"From the perspective of today, it was clearly a mistake for Father Janssen to have been reassigned to any public ministry after his 1956 suspension," Franklin wrote in the report.

The diocese in 1992 received an allegation that Bass had sexually abused a minor in 1964. A second decades-old allegation surfaced in 1998, and church officials said other credible allegations have arisen since then.

Martinez was accused in 1986 of attempting to initiate sexual activity with a minor. The parents of the minor sued Martinez and the diocese, and the case was settled out of court.

Allegations against Wiebler date to the 1970s and 1980s, and the diocese said Wiebler has admitted acts of abuse with several minors. Wiebler left the diocese in 1985 and retired in 1991. He is living at a residential treatment facility in Missouri.

For its report, the Davenport Diocese investigated sexual abuse allegations dating back to 1950. In all, the records of 600 clergy were reviewed.

Diocese officials said the review tallied sexual abuse complaints from 65 individuals, accusing 20 priests and two members of a lay group.

Three priests account for 39 of the allegations, the officials said.

While most of the alleged abuse occurred in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, diocese officials said most of the allegations weren't made until 2001 or later.

For instance, 53 percent of the abuse is alleged to have occurred in the 1960s, but there were no reports of abuse made in that entire decade.

The diocese said it is investigating allegations against four other priests: Theodore Geerts, who is living in a California nursing home; Drake Shafer, who is on a leave of absence; and two priests who have died: Louis Telegdy and Martin Diamond.

"We appreciate the admission of wrongdoing by the diocese that left so many men scarred," said Craig Levien, the Davenport lawyer representing victims in 10 of the 12 abuse lawsuits.

Franklin said none of the priests against whom allegations of abuse have been substantiated are in public ministry today, and none are permitted to have contact with children.

"May God's grace and strengths be with all who are victims," Franklin wrote in the report. "I'm sorry for any suffering you had and continue to have because of betrayed trust."

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