Skip to Content

Survivor Narratives

James M. Janssen

Father James Janssen is an example of the coordinated efforts by church officials to shuffle around priests who they know have sexually abused children. Janssen was ordained a priest in 1948 in the Diocese of Davenport in Iowa. He appeared abruptly in the Diocese of Joliet in 1956 as resident at Saint Isaac Jogues in Hinsdale—fresh off a short leave of absence for sexually abusing two children at a YMCA in Newton, Iowa. Bishop Leo Hayes, the leader of the church in Davenport, had instructed Janssen “to leave the Diocese immediately or just as soon as possible.” While ministering at Saint Isaac Jogues, Janssen did undergo “treatment” at the Loyola Center for Guidance and Psychological Service. Yet he was allowed unrestricted access to children in the Saint Isaac Jogues community.

But the pastor dismissively referred to Janssen’s abuse of the boy as a “relationship” and a “sordid mess” that threatened to undermine the priest’s otherwise “excellent work” at Saint Isaac Jogues with the Boy Scouts and parish teenagers.

Janssen took advantage of this freedom to continue to abuse children. In September 1958, the pastor of Saint Isaac Jogues forwarded to Bishop Hayes sexually explicit letters between Janssen and a 14 year old parish boy. The boy’s “heartbroken” mother had found the letters and turned them over to the pastor in the hopes he would see to it that Janssen was disciplined. But the pastor dismissively referred to Janssen’s abuse of the boy as a “relationship” and a “sordid mess” that threatened to undermine the priest’s otherwise “excellent work” at Saint Isaac Jogues with the Boy Scouts and parish teenagers. “Thank God,” he said, “this horrible thing has not spread to other boys.” The cover letter from the pastor to Bishop Hayes does not express any concern for the boy’s safety or well-being, and there is no evidence the church had done anything to protect parish children from Janssen’s abusive tendencies.

The response from Bishop Hayes—who knew, of course, that Janssen had sexually abused multiple children prior to arriving at Saint Isaac Jogues—focused on the church’s reputation: “It is consoling to know that no general notoriety has arisen, and I pray that none may result.” The bishop promised to “confront” Janssen about the abuse but failed to mention any action he would take to support the young survivor in Hinsdale. A short time later, Janssen was shuffled back to the Diocese of Davenport, where “[h]e confessed his guilt” to Bishop Hayes. The bishop observed he “was not too favorably impressed with [Janssen’s] general attitude, and my hopes for his emendation are not too high.” Nevertheless, Janssen was permitted to minister in the Diocese of Davenport for another 30 years.

The church’s failure to act in 1958 was an opportunity lost. In his more than 40 years of active ministry, Janssen abused at least 36 children. One of them was Janssen’s nephew; in 2005, a jury awarded him $1.9 million in damages for abuse that began in the 1950s, when the boy was just 5 years old and living in Chicago, and continued for almost a decade. Janssen abused other children in front of his nephew and even offered the boy to another priest for further abuse.

The church’s failure to act in 1958 was an opportunity lost. In his more than 40 years of active ministry, Janssen abused at least 36 children.

In July 2008, the Diocese of Davenport added Janssen to its list of credibly accused priests. The Diocese of Joliet, however, failed to do the same for another 10 years. Janssen first appeared on Joliet’s public list in December 2019 only because of the Attorney General’s urging.

See details for James M. Janssen

Back to Top

Scroll of Abusive Clerics/Brothers



Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*