Vatican defrocked former KC priest over sexual abuse claims four days before he died

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

March 22, 2021

By Judy L. Thomas

Four days before Michael Tierney died, the Vatican confirmed a decision to defrock the former Kansas City-area priest after finding him guilty of sexually abusing minors.

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. has been notified that an appeal by Tierney to reverse the penalty of dismissal from the priesthood was resolved on Dec. 11, the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced on its website this month. Tierney died on Dec. 15 at age 76.

“A cover letter dated February 4, 2021, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) arrived in the Office of the Bishop on February 22, 2021, notifying him of the decision,” the diocese said.

Tierney, who had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, appealed the CDF’s first decision.

“The second CDF tribunal met December 11, 2020, and upon review of Michael Tierney’s appeal, confirmed the decision of the first CDF tribunal court on both the determination of guilt as well as the penalty of dismissal,” the diocese said. “This court decision was made prior to learning of Michael Tierney’s death on December 15, 2020, therefore definitively ruling that Michael Tierney was dismissed from the clerical state by the Holy See.”

Even though the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state cannot be executed, the diocese said, it was publishing the decision “in the interests of justice for the benefit of all involved.”

“Bishop Johnston recognizes that this has been a long and often difficult process, especially for the survivors and their families who bravely shared their stories, stating, ‘I am grateful for the courage and perseverance of those who brought this matter to a point of decision; the survivors, and their families. My prayers continue for the survivors, their families, and all impacted.’”

Born in 1944 and ordained in 1969, Tierney served in many parishes in the area, including Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Christ the King, St. Elizabeth and St. Patrick in Kansas City; St. Charles Borromeo in Gladstone; Coronation of Our Lady in Grandview; Holy Spirit in Lee’s Summit; and St. Mary in St. Joseph. His last assignment was at Christ the King, when in 2011 diocesan officials removed him from all pastoral duties after an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor was reported and deemed credible.

In 2019, the diocese named him on a list of clergy it said had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. He was never prosecuted, but the diocese’s list of more than two dozen credibly accused priests said that a canonical trial “decreed guilt in multiple cases.”

Tierney had been the subject of multiple civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of minors.

The Rev. Michael Tierney, pictured in 1998
The Rev. Michael Tierney, pictured in 1998

The first lawsuit, filed in 2010, alleged that Tierney abused a 13-year-old in the 1970s. The plaintiff alleged that Tierney had asked him to move furniture at the priest’s mother’s house and then fondled and groped him.

A lawsuit filed in late 2011 — the fifth to be filed against Tierney — accused him of sexually abusing an altar boy at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church. It also alleged that Tierney took the plaintiff and another boy to Lake Viking near Cameron, Mo.

The lawsuit said that Tierney and Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien provided alcohol to a group of boys at the lake house and that some boys became “inebriated or high to the point of insensibility.” O’Brien, who died in 2013, had been named as a defendant in more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits.

In 2014, Tierney was one of the priests covered in a $10 million settlement agreement the diocese made with plaintiffs. That settlement covered 32 lawsuits filed from September 2010 through February 2014. Those lawsuits alleged sexual abuse involving 14 current and former priests in cases that spanned three decades.