|The Abuse Puzzle: Despite Reforms, the Full Scope of Clergy Sex Crimes in Kansas Is Still Unknown
By Shaun Hittle
June 23, 2010
[additional page with interactive map]
Janet Patterson investigates alleged child molesters, chronicles timelines of crimes and assists victims of abuse in dealing with the aftermath of their trauma.
Patterson isn't in law enforcement and she isn't a private investigator or a social worker. But after her son, Eric, became one of five suicide victims who alleged being sexually abused by former Wichita priest and convicted sex offender Robert Larson, she became a watchdog on the Catholic Church and its handling of abusive clergy.
Eight years after church reforms, the national and international spotlight again is on the Catholic Church. Patterson and other victims say the church continues to fall short of full disclosure in identifying abusive clergy and informing the public about them.
"It's a PR campaign. They haven't begun to be honest," Patterson said.
A two-year investigation by the Journal-World and 6News examined the church-mandated practices within each Kansas diocese regarding sexual abuse by clergy. The investigation, which included interviews with victims, victim advocates, lawyers and church leaders, also sought to identify the number of Catholic clergy who have sexually abused children in Kansas.
The investigation revealed dozens of cases of abuse over nearly 60 years, including several cases in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., which oversees the Lawrence-area Catholic churches. Cases were also found in each of the other three Catholic dioceses in the state: Wichita, Salina and Dodge City.
Our investigation shows that while some information is released about cases of sexual abuse, some church officials continue to keep the public in the dark about abusive clergy, leaving the true scope of sexual abuse in the Kansas Catholic Church unknown.
The Albert family
It's now an apartment complex for low-income tenants, but more than 50 years ago the large brick building in El Dorado was an orphanage run by the Catholic Church. The name of the orphanage, St. Joseph's Children's Home, is still on the building.
And for the Albert family, the scars from the abuse they say they experienced at the home remain.
"I've got a few good memories," Gene Albert said. "But there's a lot of bad memories, too. They leave scars with you the rest of your life."
Gene was one of seven siblings who lived at the home from 1949 to 1957. The seven children — five boys and two girls — were removed from their home in Wichita because of parental neglect. Taken from their home by the Catholic Church for protection, the four Albert children who still are living say that six of them were sexually abused by clergy at St. Joseph's.
All of the Albert children remained silent for 40 years about the abuse they say they suffered at the home. It wasn't until their sister Darlene died in 1993 that the family began speaking about the alleged abuse. Gene was cleaning out Darlene's house when he found pictures of Darlene and one of the priests — and a birth certificate.
As the brothers began investigating, they came to believe that the priest had fathered a child with Darlene that they were all unaware of. Darlene had the baby at a Catholic hospital in Kansas City, Mo., under an assumed name, and gave the baby up for adoption, according to the Alberts and a letter from the Diocese of Wichita.
After the revelation, the brothers began talking about their own alleged sexual abuse they say was perpetrated by a nun and two priests at St. Joseph's.
Several of the brothers informed the Catholic Church in the 1990s of the abuse. The Church denied the allegations.
"They said they'd move heaven and earth" if it happened, Ray Albert said. "They denied it."
The brothers initiated a lawsuit against the church in 1996 accusing priest Daniel Mulvihill — the man they believe impregnated Darlene — of sexually abusing Darlene while she was a minor and living at the St. Joseph's home. The brothers also allege that several of the Albert children were sexually abused by priest William Wheeler, as well as nun Agnesina Metzinger, though neither was named in the lawsuit. The suit was dismissed because of the statute of limitations on civil cases for sexual abuse had expired. According to published reports, Mulvihill, Wheeler and Metzinger are all dead.
The Diocese of Wichita declined to comment on the Alberts' case.
The official wording of reforms, outlined in the Catholic Church's 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, states that it is to be "open and transparent" in dealing with the public about sexual abuse.
"We gain nothing by a perception of secrecy," said Teresa Kettelkamp, director of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, the entity that enacted the reforms. "The era of secrets is over."
Some high-profile cases of sexual abuse reach the public, primarily as a result of criminal charges. For instance, Robert Larson, the priest who allegedly abused Patterson's son, was convicted in 2001 of one count of indecent liberties with a child and three counts of sexual battery for abusing four other boys. Larson spent four years in prison and his case received intense media coverage, as did the 2002 conviction of Lawrence priest Dennis Schmitz, who spent two years in prison for the abuse of a Lawrence teen.
Other cases, however, never reach the courts because of the statute of limitations on sexual abuse — which is three years past a child's 18th birthday for civil cases and five years for criminal cases in Kansas — or the death of the offending clergy member. And it's these cases the public may never know about.
As part of our investigation, each diocese was asked to reveal the total number of allegations of sexual abuse made against clergy, as well as release the names of abusive clergy who had been removed from the church. No official from any of the four Kansas dioceses would agree to an interview to discuss abuse allegations.
The amount of information disclosed about cases of abuse varied from diocese to diocese.
For instance, the Journal-World sent an information request to the Dodge City Diocese, specifically asking for information about several priests whom victims and advocates had accused of sexual abuse. The diocese responded in an e-mail that reported their actions regarding another priest, but did not comment on the other cases.
Bob Schremmer, vicar general, said, "That is all the public information available." The Dodge City Diocese did not respond to a certified letter requesting more information.
The Wichita Diocese, on the other hand, did not return repeated phone calls requesting information. Bishop Michael Jackels did respond to a certified letter, acknowledging there had been 22 allegations of abuse made since 2002. However, the diocese would not release the names of any of the clergy accused, contrary to the charter's language on disclosure.
Texas archaeologist Bob d'Aigle was 14 when, he says, a priest and a seminarian kidnapped and raped him while he was at a summer camp in Louisiana.
"I thought they were going to kill me," said d'Aigle, now 68. "I thought I was finished."
He said the alleged abuse has had a significant and devastating impact on his life.
"In my head I can handle it, but I don't know what's going on in my heart," d'Aigle said.
After two wrecked marriages and a heavy drinking problem, d'Aigle said, he sought therapy in 1988. It was in those hourly sessions that he was able to remember the events from more than 30 years prior.
While he remembered the priest who had raped him, it took him years to remember the seminarian who took part in the abuse. The name came to him one day, and after finding two postcards sent to him by the seminarian, he knew who it was.
"That's him, right there," said d'Aigle of finding the postcard.
He tracked down the seminarian, who was by then a priest serving in a Kansas diocese. He learned the priest had been involved in the local Boy Scouts for decades.
He wrote letters and informed the bishop in the diocese of the abuse, but nothing happened, and was told by the church that he was mistaken because the priest he was accusing had a different color of hair than d'Aigle described.
"They won't do anything," he said.
Diocese officials where the priest currently serves said that d'Aigle's accusations were investigated but were not substantiated.
D'Aigle filed a lawsuit against the priest and the Diocese of Alexandria, La., in a Louisiana federal court in 2005, but the suit was dismissed because of the statute of limitations. However, d'Aigle said he will continue his fight and, with the assistance of his attorney, is attempting to persuade authorities in Louisiana to press criminal charges against the priest. The state doesn't have a statute of limitations on kidnapping or rape.
Not all information released
Kettelkamp, director of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, said that the Kansas dioceses' lack of response to requests for information was not in line with the intent of the reforms.
"This is not what we expected," Kettelkamp said. "Why not? If there are other victims, it's important to get the name out."
Though all dioceses are required to provide information annually about cases of abuse, how much of that information they release to the public is at their discretion, Kettelkamp said.
Her office receives numbers about cases of sexual abuse from annual audits conducted by an outside firm, but not specific names of accused clergy. Kettelkamp said that her office is not able to provide the information about confirmed cases of abuse that the Kansas dioceses wouldn't provide to the Journal-World.
Failure to acknowledge cases of abuse continues to frustrate advocates.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that in addition to the "gray area" when it comes to standards for disclosure, there is a lack of oversight of the reforms.
"There is no enforcement of the charter," Clohessy said.
And unlike public and governmental agencies, the church is a private organization, leaving advocacy organizations with no appeal process or leverage in obtaining information.
Brian Brown is a 38-year-old inmate at a federal prison in New Mexico, serving a life sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl while on a trip from Kansas to Texas.
Brown said that decades earlier in Topeka, a priest sexually abused him, helping to send him into a life of crime and drugs.
"This psychological crap has ruined my life," Brown said in a phone interview from prison.
Brown said that he was simply filling in as an altar boy at a Catholic Church in Topeka in the 1980s. Yet in two weekends helping out at the church, Brown's life was tipped severely off course because, he says, he was sexually assaulted by a priest at the church. Brown told his stepmother, who he said didn't believe him.
Brown said he began acting out, running away from home, ending up in psychiatric hospitals, foster care homes and, eventually, in jail and prison.
At the time, Brown says, he didn't know why his life began spiraling out of control.
"I can see it now," Brown said. "But I'm 38."
After he was sent to federal prison, Brown contacted the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., and told them about the alleged abuse. Brown said that a Catholic Church representative came to the prison and offered to pay for therapy. But after the visit, Brown said, he never heard from the them again. Brown then filed a lawsuit against the church in Shawnee County, but the paperwork was served to the wrong person, and Brown's lawsuit was dismissed, though he can still refile the suit.
Brown said that in the end he wants the church to pay for counseling, and for someone to acknowledge what he went through.
"I want them to recognize that this person did these things," he said.
Officials from the Archdiocese of Kansas City would not comment specifically on Brown's case, but they did say that the priest Brown named had been accused of sexual abuse, was removed from the church and laicized — the Catholic process for removing a priest's clerical powers. The church did not provide any additional information about the priest, such as where he served, when he was removed, or how many allegations of abuse had been made against him.
'Our name is as good as theirs'
Despite the obstacles, advocates and victims continue to fight for information on abusive clergy.
Bishop Accountability, a nonprofit organization, maintains a website listing clergy accused of abuse.
The site, www.bishop-accountability.org, documents more than 3,000 clergy in the United States who have been accused of sexual abuse, but lists only cases reported in the media.
Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, estimates the true number of abusive clergy at 7,000. He said tracking abusive clergy can be a complicated task. Abusive clergy are often removed from the church without comment and possibly moved to another diocese or, worse, out into the community with no oversight, McKiernan said.
"Unless we're told, we don't know" about abusive clergy, McKiernan said.
And in the eyes of advocates such as Patterson, the Catholic Church isn't telling.
"Nothing comes out of the diocese unless it's pulled out," Patterson said. "It's like chronicling a criminal conspiracy."
The Albert brothers say it's time for the church, which has never publicly acknowledged sexual abuse at St. Joseph's, to come clean about its abusive past in Kansas.
For the Alberts, that means naming all abusive clergy in the state.
"Our name is as good as theirs," Dean Albert said. "When there are names drawn into the story, it makes it more real. ... Instead of hiding."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.