Former KC priest who was the subject of dozens of child sexual abuse lawsuits has died

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

January 18, 2022

By Judy L Thomas

Thomas Reardon, a former Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph who over the years was named in more than two dozen child sexual abuse lawsuits, was found dead Sunday in a south Kansas City senior living facility.

Kansas City police told The Star that officers were dispatched with EMS personnel to Brookdale Wornall Place at 501 W. 107th St. on a dead body call just after noon Sunday. Upon arrival, they contacted employees who told them the deceased person was Reardon, a resident. No foul play was suspected, police said.

Reardon, 80, was ordained in 1967 and resigned from the priesthood in 1989. Decades later, he was laicized, or removed from the priesthood. In 2019, he was among 24 priests whose names Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. released as those who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. Johnston called the abuse a “dreadful scourge” that “has wounded our entire family of faith.”

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has filed about 30 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Reardon, said that he “left behind a legacy of loss and shattered lives.”

“His death, without accountability, lacks both closure and justice for his victims,” Randles said. “We know the sharp pain of his loved ones’ loss and acknowledge it. But we also know the desolation his behavior caused scores of young men. We can neither rejoice nor mourn.”

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese responded to Reardon’s death in an email to The Star on Tuesday evening.

“The sexual abuse of children and youth by people representing God and the Church, and many of the ways in which these crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger and confusion for victim-survivors, their families and the entire Church community,” the diocese said. “Thomas Reardon caused egregious harm to many and for this, we are sorry.”

Victims’ advocates said they hoped the news of Reardon’s death would give some solace to those who were abused.

“No Missouri priest faced as many child sex abuse allegations as Fr. Thomas M. Reardon, who worked in parishes, at a camp and as a substance abuse counselor,” said David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a statement.

“Now, he’s dead and we hope his passing will bring comfort to at least some of the hundreds of friends and families who continue to suffer from his crimes. His former church colleagues and supervisors should use this opportunity to aggressively reach out to other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers.”

Reardon’s assignments in the diocese were at St. Elizabeth’s Parish from 1968 to 1971, St. John Francis Regis from 1972 to 1973, then the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception from 1974 to 1977. He was at Church of the Santa Fe in Buckner in 1978, followed by St. Gabriel the Archangel from 1979 to 1981, then back at Regis from 1982 until 1989.

During his priesthood, Reardon also was the administrator of Camp Little Flower in Raytown, which provided educational camping for children ages 7 through 12. And in the 1980 Official Catholic Directory, he was listed as being in charge of the Catholic Youth Organization.

After leaving the priesthood, Reardon worked as a substance abuse counselor — including for the Jackson County drug court — and a compulsive-gambling counselor. He later asked the state of Missouri to suspend his certification.

Reardon was among 12 current and former priests named in a 47-plaintiff sexual abuse case that the diocese settled for $10 million in 2008. He also was included in a $10 million settlement by the diocese in 2014 that covered 32 lawsuits involving 14 current and former priests in allegations of sexual abuse over three decades.

The most recent settlement involving Reardon was last year, Randles said. In that case, David Ford alleged that Reardon sexually abused him in the late 1970s when Reardon worked at St. Gabriel Parish and the diocese covered it up. Ford told The Star in an interview years ago — and also said in a 1997 deposition in another case — that on more than a dozen occasions in 1978 and 1979 when he was 14 and 15 and working at St. Gabriel’s, he was asked to be a bartender for priests’ parties.

At those parties, he said, several clergy saw him give drinks to priests and to boys the priests had brought with them. Ford said priests took boys alone to rooms during the parties and that Reardon did the same with him. Ford said in his deposition that he disclosed his abuse to Catholic officials at least four times — in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1996.

The last lawsuit to be filed involving Reardon was in July 2018 and is still in litigation, Randles said, with a trial date set for 2023.

In the lawsuit, Kevin Smith of Nebraska alleged that Reardon sexually abused him when Smith was a teenager attending St. Gabriel’s. Smith — identified in the lawsuit as “John SK2 Doe” — accused the diocese of providing Reardon access to children, failing to keep children safe and not contacting law enforcement or civil authorities about the risk that the priest posed.

“I am doing this because I know there are other victims out there that need help,” Smith told reporters several months later when he revealed his identity. “I want the diocese to join me, to reach out to others that are suffering, to offer more than lip service, symbolic gestures and unfulfilled promises.”

In 2007, The Star wrote about interviews with dozens of men who accused Reardon and Monsignor Thomas O’Brien, another priest of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, of sexually abusing them as boys. They alleged that Reardon often accompanied O’Brien and that the priests used their positions of power to prey on the youngsters, plying them with alcohol, groping them and offering them money for sex.

Some of the abuse, they said, occurred at a house owned by O’Brien’s family on Lake Viking, about 60 miles northeast of Kansas City. Numerous victims also have alleged that former Kansas City priest Joseph Hart, who later became bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was sometimes a guest at Lake Viking and participated in the abuse.

Over the years, the priests all vigorously denied the accusations. O’Brien, himself the subject of more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits, died in 2013 at 87. Hart, 90, retired as the Wyoming bishop in 2001. He has been the subject of 10 sexual abuse lawsuits involving the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese and at least 18 sexual abuse allegations in the Kansas City and Cheyenne dioceses. And though both the Kansas City-St. Joseph and Cheyenne dioceses have deemed allegations against him to be credible, the Vatican last year exonerated Hart of seven accusations that he sexually abused minors and said five others could not be proven “with moral certitude.”

A southwest Missouri man who accused Reardon and O’Brien of abuse in a 2011 lawsuit is currently appearing in a Netflix documentary film about priest sex abuse that began streaming in November.

In one scene of “Procession,” in which six men wrote, directed and acted out fictional scenes based on the memories of their sexual abuse as boys, Joe Eldred goes with two of the others to Lake Viking in search of the house where some of his abuse occurred. When they find it, Eldred walks up to the door.

“I’m standing on the porch of my nightmares right now,” he says.

Eldred said the news of Reardon’s death came as a surprise.

“It is a good thing that the long years of damage he inflicted upon those he preyed upon as well as the pain he caused their families has finally come to an end,” he said. “I hope that his passing brings comfort and closure to all the other boys he took advantage of.

“I know it will bring comfort and closure to mine.”