Kansas Priest Will Not Return to Parish after Hiking Trip with Children
By Stan Finger and Katherine Burgess
January 5, 2018
A Catholic priest removed from the pulpit after taking a group of boys on an unsupervised hike in October will not return to the parish, Bishop Carl Kemme announced in a letter to parishioners in Conway Springs.
The Catholic Diocese of Wichita would not comment on or confirm Friday the news about the Rev. Andrew Seiler, who was removed from St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs in mid-October after the incident. Being alone with a minor goes against behavioral boundaries set by the diocese.
“Based on my own meetings at the parish ... as well as letters and emails I have received since then, I understand that some will agree with this decision and others will not,” Kemme’s letter to the parish states. “In the end, I have come to the conclusion that it would be best for everyone involved if St. Joseph Parish received a new pastor at this time.”
A letter sent to parishioners Nov. 9 and provided by the diocese to The Eagle said there were no allegations of abuse against Seiler and that “no harm was done to the children.” The letter also thanked parents for sharing their “legitimate concerns” with the diocese.
Seiler became pastor of St. Joseph in 2008. The parish is made up of 364 families.
Seiler has been “participating in a program of priestly renewal” including counseling since mid-November, Kemme wrote, and will remain in the program “for an undetermined amount of time.”
The most recent letter to parishioners, dated Jan. 4, also said that Kemme “would consider another assignment” in the diocese for Seiler after he completes the program.
Seiler’s successor in Conway Springs has yet to be appointed, Kemme said, but he will begin his new duties next month.
A document titled “Behavioral Boundaries for Ministry with Children” from the diocese says adults should “have at least one other adult present when working with minors. Conduct private conversations where there is open access and visibility.”
Those guidelines were developed in 2003, in the wake of Rev. Robert Larson’s conviction for abusing altar boys at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton while he was a priest there in the late 1980s. Several former altar boys from various parishes, including St. Joseph, said Larson had molested them. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office said the statute of limitations prevented it from filing additional charges.
Larson was sentenced to five years in prison and died in 2014.