Victim Implores: Don't Parole Priest

By Stan Finger
The Wichita Eagle [Wichita KS]
July 28, 2004

Paul Schwartz has a good job, a nice house, a solid marriage and a 3-year-old daughter who is the light of his life.

Thursday morning, he will drive from his suburban Kansas City home to Wichita and implore the Kansas Parole Board to keep a former Catholic priest -- the priest who molested him when he was an altar boy -- in prison.

Robert Larson spent 30 years as a priest in the Diocese of Wichita before being suddenly and quietly removed in 1988 from the pulpit of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton.

Larson pleaded guilty in 2001 to molesting three altar boys and a teenager while he served at St. Mary's. He was sentenced to three to 10 years at Lansing Correctional Facility and was denied parole in 2002.

"I think the guy needs to stay in jail," said Schwartz, 34, one of the boys Larson admitted molesting. "He's still a sexual predator as well as a pedophile.

"The day he gets out of prison, he's going to go back to what he's always doing: trying to abuse kids."

Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, a member of the national board of directors for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she expects at least 30 people to address the parole board about Larson at the public comment session.

The session runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Room 3080 of the Finney State Office Building, 230 E. William. People wanting to speak to the Larson case are asked to wait until 1 p.m. to address the board.

David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, said the Larson case is significant because he is among the most notorious abusers to date in the clergy sexual abuse scandal that first captured national attention in 2002.

The parole board's decision on Larson "will reflect whether society really understands the compulsive, repetitive nature of sex abuse," Clohessy said. "If you somehow believe that men molest one or two children and can magically be cured, then you might argue that he's done his time.

"If 2 ? years of scandal have taught us anything, it should be that these men hurt kids time and time and time again."

When Larson first became eligible for parole two years ago, friends and fellow priests urged the parole board to release him. But the board ruled that Larson should remain in prison and not be eligible for release again until this September.

"This has nothing to do with mercy or forgiveness," said Patterson, whose oldest son, Eric, committed suicide in 1999 after confiding to his family that Larson molested him when he was an altar boy at Conway Springs in the early 1980s. "This is about looking at the crime and the damages that are done."

Larson has denied molesting Eric Patterson or any of the other four young men who served Mass for him and later committed suicide. Regardless of the parole board's decision, prison guidelines in place at the time of the crimes mandate that Larson can't be held in prison any later than March 29, 2006.

Schwartz said he'd love to be "free" that soon, too.

"Who's really in prison here? Me or Larson?" Schwartz asked. "Larson's going to get out of prison... but will he be dealing with the emotions and the feelings and the sensitivity to the specific issues that I do?

"Do they impact my marriage? Or how I raise my daughter? I guarantee it."

He still struggles with the idea of letting anyone other than a family member baby-sit his little girl.

"That's my prison," he said. "I know what can happen to them. I know what happened to me."

Thanks to "lots and lots of therapy," Schwartz is in a different place now from where he was when he spotted a USA Today news item in August 2000 that mentioned Larson, then tracked down The Wichita Eagle story on which the item was based. The article quoted several former altar boys who claimed Larson had molested them.

He contacted Newton police and told them Larson had abused him, too. When Harvey County pressed charges against Larson, Schwartz agreed to testify.

But other victims wanted to avoid a trial, so a plea agreement was reached. The judge threw out the agreement, however, and gave Larson a much harsher sentence. Afterward, Schwartz wept and hugged other victims and their loved ones.

"I'm not nearly as angry," he says now. "But because I've overcome a lot doesn't mean it hasn't affected me as much as other people.

"I can't tell you how many times between the ages of 12 and 14 I sat there with a shotgun in my lap asking, 'Should I kill myself today?' I can't tell you how many times I wish I had done what Eric Patterson did, and all the others. And then there were times I asked, 'Why didn't they fight harder?' "

What kept him alive, Schwartz said, was his answer to a question that might seem unlikely:

"How much faith do I have in God?"


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