Priest Is Removed from Church Duties
He Is Accused of Sexual Impropriety
By Judy L. Thomas and Matt Stearns
Kansas City Star
May 3, 2002
The Rev. Dennis Schmitz, who once oversaw recruitment of new priests for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, was relieved of his parish duties on Thursday because of allegations of sexual impropriety with a minor.
"Issues of possible sexual impropriety have been raised in regard to Father Schmitz, and we believe that it is best for all parties that he be with his family," Archbishop James P. Keleher said in a statement released Thursday morning by The Leaven, the archdiocese's official newspaper.
Keleher said Schmitz, 41, has been placed on indefinite leave. Until Thursday, he was pastor of St. Gregory's parish in Marysville, Kan., and St. Malachy's parish in Beattie, Kan.
The archdiocese did not reveal when the alleged incident occurred or the age of the alleged victim.
Church officials reported the matter Thursday to authorities at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which typically handles cases involving abuse of minors.
"Until the SRS investigation is complete, we will not be able to comment further," the archdiocese's statement said.
Department spokeswoman Stacey Herman said Thursday afternoon that the case had been turned over to police. When asked whether the alleged victim was a minor, Herman said, "I think that's a safe assumption."
When reached for comment Thursday morning at St. Gregory's, Schmitz denied he had been removed.
"That's not true," he said.
He also said there were no sexual-abuse allegations against him.
In a second interview about 20 minutes later, when asked about Keleher's statement, Schmitz declined to comment and referred calls to his attorney, Stephen Mirakian, of Kansas City.
Mirakian said Schmitz hired him Wednesday, after the priest had been informed by the archdiocese that a report had been made concerning alleged improprieties.
"To my knowledge, there's no claims pending, there's no lawsuits filed, there's no criminal charges," Mirakian said. "We haven't even gotten to the point of discussing whether there's anything to deny."
A native of Axtell, Kan., Schmitz graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., in 1983. He attended seminary at St. Meinrad in Indiana and North American College in Rome, and was ordained in July 1989.
Schmitz also has served in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in various parishes, including St. Ann's in Prairie Village, Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park and St. Joseph's in Shawnee. He also was chaplain to Bishop Miege High School from 1989 to 1994, and worked at St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center, at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. There he led a singles group for Catholic men and women ages 18 to 35 who were interested in the priesthood and other religious avocations.
He became the vocations director - the person responsible for recruiting priests - in 1994. Last July he was assigned to the parishes in Marysville and Beattie.
Schmitz has led numerous retreats for the archdiocese. In August 2000, he led a pilgrimage of about 150 young people, mostly high school and college students, to Rome for World Youth Day, according to The Leaven.
Schmitz also is well-known as the founder of the Runnin' Revs, a group of basketball-playing priests who compete against youth teams from Catholic schools. The team plays annual games in Marysville, Johnson County and Topeka. Members encourage boys to consider a life of religious service.
One of the Runnin' Revs, the Rev. Ron Cornish, said the team consists of about 10 priests.
"It's basically something real good," Cornish said. "It's a good time, and they see the priests doing things other than what they usually see them do in church. To see the priests like that, hopefully, develops to vocations."
Schmitz was featured in the Oct. 6, 2001, issue of The Leaven in an article about an upturn in seminary recruitment. The article said Schmitz was taking potential priest candidates on visits to seminaries.
"That chance for them to see other young men living the life, preparing for the diocesan priesthood, is so key," Schmitz is quoted as saying in the article.
One priest who knows Schmitz well said that the archdiocese handled the allegations properly.
"If there are concerns, our diocese's policy is extremely clear on that," said the priest, who asked not to be identified because of his position in the archdiocese. "If there's anything that comes to light, it's immediate discharge. If a complaint comes up, especially if it's a minor, the legality thing is very clear. And the process kicks in. SRS would be notified and so on."
The priest said he was devastated to hear of the allegations. Still, he said, "something like this needs to come to light."
The archdiocese also is looking into decades-old allegations of sexual improprieties against four other priests. Two are deceased, officials said, and one is retired. The fourth, the Rev. Donald Redmond, is a monk at St. Benedict's Abbey, Atchison. Redmond recently was removed from Sacred Heart parish in Sabetha, Kan.
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