Kansas pressed for action on clergy accused of abuse

The Derby Informer [Derby, Kansas]

January 17, 2023

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen

Janet Patterson remembers attending a Catholic mass at her parish near Wichita and hearing the congregation’s newly assigned priest lecture the parishioners.“I remember him saying, ‘You must never criticize the priest,’” she said. “I was sitting there in the church with my son, Eric, and my other kids and my husband. And I remember thinking, ‘Who’s criticizing the priest?’”Only later did Patterson learn about the long list of accusations of sexual abuse levied against the previous priest, Father Robert Larson, who had just been reassigned from this church in Conway Springs to another congregation in Newton.Ultimately convicted of molesting four boys, Larson allegedly molested many more. Five of them died by suicide as young men, including Patterson’s son, Eric.Eric died at age 29 in 1999, a few years before Larson’s conviction.Reassigning priests and keeping their parishioners in the dark about the reasons was just one way the Catholic Church hid sex offenders from scrutiny. Larson bounced from one location to another frequently over the decades.A new report from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation documents how the church’s actions shielded molesters and hampered prosecutions. The KBI found 188 clergy suspected of committing crimes — including sodomy, rape and child rape.But a national survivors’ group says Kansas must go further. The public report is only a summary of what the KBI found.“A glaring absence is that of the alleged abusers’ names,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said in a statement on Jan. 9. “We demand the names of alleged abusers in this report and that the Archdiocese list of credibly accused be updated immediately.”

The group also called on Kansas legislators to “look into abolishing their civil statute of limitations and open a lookback window so that more abusers can be brought to light and to justice.”

“Similarly, we hope they will move to make clergy and church staff mandatory reporters so that there are penalties and deterrents for not reporting abuse to authorities,” SNAP said.

The KBI report says Kansas dioceses regularly ignored church policies regarding allegations of abuse. It says many cases are too old to prosecute.