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Several Lawsuits Filed Against Davenport Diocese Target Retired Priest

Jan 7, 2004 |

Three of the four dioceses in Iowa say they have paid out more than $2 million to settle sex abuse cases. Des Moines, Sioux City, and Dubuque say over the past 50 years, they have received complaints against 47 priests.

Those numbers, however, don't include the Diocese of Davenport. The diocese refuses to release the information because of ongoing sexual abuse lawsuits.

The Davenport diocese has ten pending sex abuse lawsuits filed against it, more than any other in Iowa.

Many of them were filed at the Scott County Courthouse over the past few months. Most target a now-retired priest named father Jim Janssen.

In court papers filed last month, James Wells says he was first abused by a man he once trusted completely, his priest and uncle, Father Jim Janssen on Thanksgiving Day, 1953. He was just five years old.

Wells says he was repeatedly preyed upon by Father Janssen for the next nine years, the priest always telling him, "it was our little secret."

In his sworn affadavit, Wells talks of naked card parties held by the priest and details places he was abused, he says, until the age of 14. Amusement parks, boy scout sleepovers, in a rectory, in a tent the priest bought him places he says Janssen would "fondle me while he masturbated."

In court documents, Wells says the priest would often fondle him here on what used to be a deserted road off Jersey Ridge in Davenport.

He says once a police officer asked what was going on. He says Father Janssen, with his collar on, replied, I'm a priest, and I'm hearing this boy’s confession.

In 1987, Wells wrote this letter to his uncle confronting him with "the wrong he had done."

Janssen’s attorney wrote back with threats to sue him. Wells then turned to Monsignor Morrisey, then head of the Diocese of Davenport. His mother wrote a follow-up letter, asking for results of the investigation.

The monsignor wrote back, saying he wasn't sure what investigation they were talking about, and would like to know what it is he should be investigating.

Wells, by that time suffering severe depression wrote the monsignor back, with more details, but the case against Father Janssen was closed.

Wells is suing the diocese for allegedly knowing about other complaints against Father Janssen molesting boys but not doing anything about it.

There are several other suits on file against Janssen, who retired in 1990, from other alleged victims in Clinton County, Ft. Madison and Davenport.

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