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SNAP of Tennessee

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - Tennessee 

Jury Rules Janssen Must Pay



Jury rules Janssen must pay

By Todd Ruger
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A Scott County jury awarded damages of almost $1.9 million Monday in a civil lawsuit against former priest James Janssen, finding that he abused his nephew while serving as a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Davenport.
 
The unanimous verdict came after about four hours of deliberations, with jurors concluding that James Wells, 56, of Bettendorf, should collect damages from his uncle for nine years of sexual abuse that ended in 1962 despite filing his lawsuit more than 40 years later.
 
The jury awarded $1.26 million to Wells in compensatory damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of wages and loss of function of mind or body, along with $632,000 in punitive damages for “willful and wanton disregard for the rights or safety of another.”
 
Wells thanked each juror, shaking hands as they walked out of the courtroom, before turning and hugging his attorney, Craig Levien.
 
“I’m very happy,” Wells said after the verdict was read. “It took me years to get this far, and I was able to do it for those who can’t.”
 
Levien called it a “true day of justice,” but he said Wells will not receive enough money from Janssen, 83, of Davenport, to cover the cost of taking the case to trial, let alone all the damages.
 
“It wasn’t for money. It was for justice,” Levien said. “He’s now not an alleged pedophile, but a proven pedophile.”
 
Janssen, who Levien said still faces seven similar lawsuits and was removed from the priesthood by the Vatican last year, did not attend the reading of the verdict. He was not required to be present.
 
His attorney, Edward Wehr, made an appearance in the courtroom, but he left before the jury entered.
 
Janssen and Wehr could not be reached for comment Monday by the QUAD-CITY TIMES.
 
During the trial, Wells testified that Janssen abused him in a car, while swimming and at other places after he was first molested during a nap that followed Thanksgiving dinner in 1953, when Wells was 5 years old.
 
A psychiatrist testified that the abuse caused Wells’ severe post-traumatic stress disorder and left him unable to work, hold a job, maintain a relationship or file a lawsuit until a new combination of prescription drugs he received in 2003 made him feel the best he ever had.
 
Janssen testified twice during the trial — admitting from the witness stand Wednesday that he sexually abused Wells before recanting that admission the next day — while his attorney argued that letters sent in the late 1980s from Wells to Janssen helped show the plaintiff was able to file his lawsuit at that time.
 
Scott County Attorney Bill Davis said he has opened an investigation into whether Janssen committed perjury, a Class D felony under Iowa law, for falsely testifying under oath. Davis has requested transcripts of Janssen’s testimony.
 
Wells said after the verdict was read that he prays his “disturbed” and “narcissistic” uncle gets help, but added that bishops who have led the Davenport Diocese are “the real culprits.”
 
“They knew about my uncle’s behavior in 1953 and they didn’t do anything about it,” Wells said. “As a consequence, many of us were abused.”
 
Last year, the diocese settled 37 claims of sexual abuse of minors by priests for $9 million. Janssen was identified as one of three priests named in the vast majority of 108 sexual abuse allegations reported to the diocese since 1950.
 
The courts will reduce Monday’s judgment against Janssen by $472,000, the amount Wells received in the settlement with the diocese, Levien said.
 
The Most Rev. William Franklin, who has served as bishop of the Davenport Diocese since 1993, said in a prepared statement released after the verdict that he encourages victims to come forward for healing. Franklin also said he hopes the diocese can foster healing and forgiveness and prevent sexual abuse by clergy from ever happening again.
 
“All sexual abuse by anyone is horrendous, especially to children by clergy,” he said. “I am profoundly sorry and I express my deep apology to the victims from the entire Catholic community.”
 
David Clohessy, the national director of a victims advocate group, Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests, said the verdict provides a tremendous, long-overdue and hard-fought sense of validation.
 
There are people who can’t accept the fact that a priest could be so devious and devastating to so many,” he said. “No one can heal a wound like this, but it’s certainly a huge step forward, not only for Jim (Wells) but for all Janssen victims.”
 
One of the eight jurors, Cindy Fisher of Davenport, said the former priest’s changing testimony stood out to her, as well as the years of suffering she saw in Wells during his turn on the witness stand.
 
“You could tell,” she said, referring to Wells’ long history of mental illness.
 
Wells, who testified that he is Janssen’s namesake, said after the verdict that he will change his first name from James to Justus, his late father’s name.
 
Todd Ruger can be contacted at (563) 383-2493 or [email protected].
 
Coming up
The next trial for a civil lawsuit alleging sexual abuse against a minor decades ago by a priest
of the Catholic Diocese of .Davenport is scheduled to begin May 31 in Clinton County, plaintiff’s attorney Craig Levien said Monday. Steven Davis of Wisconsin claims in a lawsuit that the Rev. Francis Bass fondled him on several occasions beginning in 1982, when Davis was an altar boy at St. Patrick’s Parish in Delmar, Iowa. Davis claims the abuse happened when he was about 14 years old after the priest befriended him and his parents and gained consent for the boy to spend time alone with the priest. Bass has denied the claims in court records.
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—Todd Ruger