Let’s remember just how awful these crimes are

by David Clohessy

Two notorious serial predator priests have been back in the news recently. Both assaulted dozens of kids. Both were shielded, for decades, by complicit colleagues and supervisors. Their horrific crimes, though they took place years ago, should not go unnoticed.

1.One of Iowa’s most notorious child molesting clerics, Fr. James M. Janssen, has passed away. He reportedly abusing many boys, often along with other pedophile priests Fr. Francis Bass, Fr. Theodore Anthony Geerts, and Fr. James W. Murphy, and of pimping his victims to Bass, Murphy and Fr. William Wiebler.


Janssen allegedly used sacrilege and petty crime to groom his victims, and sometimes took them out of state to abuse them. Janssen's "stable of boys" ranged in ages from 5 to 18. He continued to abuse at least one into his twenties, and he kept in touch with several into their adulthood, according to multiple sources (see BishopAccountability.org)

Davenport Catholic officials were “warned about Janssen in 1948 before his first assignment, and he admitted abusing kids to a bishop in 1958. Yet he worked as a priest for 42 years in 14 parishes and was pastor at four of them for a total of 23 years. He was on the Priests' Personnel Board for 13 years and was a Boy Scout chaplain for a decade.

Despite repeated pledges to be “open and transparent” about clergy sex crimes, Janssen’s long-time colleagues and supervisors in the Davenport Catholic diocese apparently have told no one in the public or the parishes that he’s gone. We suspect they didn’t tell police or prosecutors either. Sadly, none of the dozens of current or former Davenport diocesan employees saw fit to spread the news either.

2. A priest who “abused hundreds of children over decades” should have never been ordained, a Northern Ireland government panel was told last month, is also deceased.



Fr. Brendan Smyth died in prison after being convicted of indecently assaulting 74 children in the Republic of Ireland and 43 others in Northern Ireland. He also worked in North Dakota and Rhode Island where at least three abuse and cover up lawsuits (in 2010 and 2008) have been filed in Rhode Island because of Fr. Smyth’s crimes. He also worked in North Dakota.

In 2007, Providence Catholic officials admitted that they had received eight abuse reports about Smyth. (East Greenwich Pendulum, October 25, 2007)

We call on Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin, Bismarck Bishop David Kagan, Fargo Bishop John Folda of Fargo and every single diocesan or parish employee in the two states to show some courage, break their silence, act with compassion and use every possible means to reach out to and help others who were sexually violated by Smyth or Janssen (or by Janssen’s complicit clerical colleagues). It’s not enough for a church official to say “We’re sorry for these crimes.” Church officials must use their vast resources – parish websites, pulpit announcements, new releases and church bulletins – to seek out and console those who have been suffering for decades because of this predator.

And let me address this question: “Why does it matter whether church officials disclose the death of a predator priest?”

It matters for several reasons:

First, it’s comforting when victims know that their perpetrator can no longer hurt any other kids. But that doesn’t happen (or happens years later) if the predator’s death is kept secret.

Second, sometimes victims who are trapped in fear, shame and self-blame feel ‘liberated’ when their perpetrator dies. They are then more apt to speak up, get help, expose wrongdoing and start healing. But that doesn’t happen (or happens years later) if the predator’s death is kept secret.

Third, it’s important and reassuring when bishops keep their promises to be open about clergy sex crimes and cover ups. And it’s distressing – for victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and parishioners – when they do not.

So it’s callous and selfish for bishops and other Catholic staff to keep secret about the death of a pedophile priests.

Finally, we commend the brave individuals who were hurt as kids by Janssen and Smyth and found the strength to expose these pedophiles and those who protected them for decades.

We hope the fact that these predators are deceased brings some comfort to these courageous but suffering victims, knowing that neither Janssen nor Smyth can ever assault a child again.

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