May 10, 2005

Ex-priest ordered to pay $1.8 million in abuse trial

Des Moines Register

May 10, 2005
Defrocked priest James Janssen was ordered Monday to pay $1.8 million in damages to his nephew, which makes him one of half a dozen priests nationwide who have been assessed monetary damages for sexual abuse.

A Scott County jury Monday ordered Janssen to pay damages to James Wells, 56, of Bettendorf. Wells accused the priest of abusing him for nine years, beginning when he was 5. The jury found for Wells after four hours of deliberation.

Janssen, 83, at first testified that he would not contest the allegations, although he didn't remember the abuse. The next day, he took the stand and said he was innocent, but had been persuaded by his lawyer that people would not believe that.

It is the first time an Iowa priest has been assessed damages in a civil lawsuit involving child sexual abuse, lawyers said.

"I feel vindicated, and it's been a long time coming," said Wells, who sued Janssen and the Davenport Catholic Diocese in 2003. Last fall, the diocese settled with Wells and 37 other abused plaintiffs for $9 million.

Craig Levien, the attorney who represented a majority of those filing sexual abuse lawsuits against Davenport priests, said that after decades of denial and diocesan cover-up, Janssen has been held accountable.

"This was not an effort to get more money for James Wells," Levien said. "We had the opportunity for an unbiased jury to apply justice to this priest just like any other person."

Posted by kshaw at May 10, 2005 04:07 AM