Kansas report on sex abuse in Catholic dioceses identifies 188 clergy suspected of crimes

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

January 7, 2023

By Judy L. Thomas

A four-year investigation into sexual abuse in Kansas’ Catholic dioceses and a breakaway Catholic sect has identified 188 clergy members suspected of committing criminal acts, according to a report released Friday by outgoing Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

But because of statute of limitations issues, no charges have yet resulted from the investigation conducted by the state’s top law enforcement agency.

“In summary, the task force received and reviewed 41,265 pages of records, received and reviewed 224 tips, interviewed 137 victims of abuse, initiated 125 criminal cases and distributed 30 charging affidavits to the appropriate prosecutors for charging consideration,” wrote Kansas Bureau of Investigation director Kirk Thompson in a letter to Schmidt.

“Our investigations identified 188 clergy members suspected of committing various criminal acts, to include: aggravated criminal sodomy, rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated sexual battery.

” The report said the investigation turned up many abuse allegations that lacked sufficient evidence to present the cases to prosecutors for charges.

“However, the task force submitted 30 affidavits to prosecutors, and in each outlined the probable cause to charge offending Catholic clergy members,” it said. “No prosecutor has filed charges in any of the 30 cases where affidavits were filed. In nearly all cases involving those offending priests, the statute of limitations had expired or the priest was no longer living. Both situations prevented prosecution of the offending priests.”

The 30 probable cause affidavits involved 14 priests, the report said. It did not name any of the accused clergy.

The investigation covered a period from 1950 to 2022 and identified 400 victims, according to the report. Schmidt, a Republican who lost his bid for governor in November, released the document late Friday afternoon, just days before his term as AG ends at noon on Monday. Thompson is set to retire from the KBI on Tuesday.

The KBI announced in February 2019 that it had opened an investigation into reports of sexual abuse in the four Catholic dioceses in Kansas, convening an internal task force of six special agents. The investigation was ordered by Schmidt in November 2018 at the request of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Schmidt directed the KBI to examine abuse reports received from the public and complete a review of church documents to determine if any abuse cases should be prosecuted.

The KBI’s announcement of the investigation came less than two weeks after the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas released the names of 22 priests in its files who’d had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them in the past 75 years. That list now has grown to 24.

In releasing the document, Naumann said each name on the list “represents a grave human tragedy” and “a betrayal of trust and a violation of the innocent.”

The KBI investigation originally focused on reports of clergy sexual abuse in the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses — Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas. It later expanded to include the Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway Catholic group known for its traditional Latin Mass with a large branch in St. Marys in northeast Kansas.

Thompson said Friday that the KBI would continue to investigate criminal allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members associated with the Society of St. Pius X.

Thompson said the investigation “utilized significant KBI manpower and resources over the course of four years.”

“Given the 50 year scope of the investigation, the volume of records, the volume of people involved in each case, and the geographic dispersal of witnesses, victims and suspects, the efforts by our task force was immense,” he said.

Among the report’s findings:

▪ Some victims were hesitant to provide information because they had previously signed non-disclosure agreements with the church associated with civil suits.

▪ In many cases, the victims or the priests had died.

▪ Church leaders sometimes failed to report incidents to law enforcement or child protection services.

▪ Inadequate record keeping resulted in the intentional or accidental deletion of documents relating to allegations of sexual abuse.

▪ Most of the investigations conducted by the dioceses into past allegations of sexual abuse were inconsistent and inadequate.

▪ Church officials often attempted to avoid scandal and failed to hold offenders accountable, transferring offending priests to other parishes, continuing to financially support them and failing to monitor them or remove them from the priesthood.

At times, the report said, investigators encountered significant obstacles to getting access to information and alleged perpetrators.

In one instance, it said, agents went to a ranch in Colorado where multiple offender priests reside. The ranch was run by the Capuchin Province, a Catholic religious order that operates in Kansas and other states, the report said.

“Our agents were met by staff who informed the priests why the KBI was there,” it said. “The priests declined to meet with the KBI agents. Therefore, there was no access to those priests for questioning.”

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, was quick to respond to the report’s findings.

“Justice deferred is justice denied,” Randles said. “We appreciate the efforts of the KBI in documenting what clergy abuse victims and their advocates already know: the Catholic dioceses and orders in Kansas knew that the children in their parishes were being sexually abused but did nothing to protect the children. Instead, they tried to protect themselves and have hidden behind the statute of limitations to prevent real justice for victims.”

Thompson noted that the abuses revealed during the investigation “had a profound effect on the victims, the families of victims and our task force members.”

He said the investigators found countless examples of inspiration while working with sexual abuse victims.

“Those victims, whose lives have been traumatically affected by what happened to them as a child, have shown hope, strength and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity,” he said. “It is our deepest and most sincere hope these victims find a way to continue to survive and heal. And for those victims who are still traumatized who did not report, it is our hope they find the strength to seek help.”

The report said that the KBI task force also received allegations against clergy from religions and faiths other than the Catholic Church. And it recognized “the enduring impact the acts of abuse at the hands of trusted Church officials had upon the victims and their families.”

“As with every case of child abuse, the emotional and physical impact on the victims by their abusers is significantly traumatic and enduring,” it said. “Throughout the investigation, our team heard from many victims who attributed their alcohol or drug abuse, or their ‘wrecked lives,’ to the sexual abuse they endured.”

A few of the victims the task force dealt with were in prison and attributed that in part to the sexual abuse they’d endured as children, the report said.

“Our agents witnessed men, now in their 60 s and 70s, break down in tears as they reported their sexual abuse to our team,” it said. “In many cases they have never previously disclosed the sexual abuse to anyone. “

Many times the victims thought they were the only victim of the offending priest. Following appropriate investigative interviews and actions, some victims learned for the first time they were not the only one the priest had abused.”

The report said all four Kansas dioceses had allegations of sexual abuse.

“Each of the dioceses participated in deceptive practices regarding sexual abuse violations to some degree,” it said. “Credible evidence suggests a number of diocesan officials, including bishops, conspired to cover up sexual abuse allegations. Historically, these allegations were rarely reported to law enforcement by the church.”

The report also addressed the issue of suicide.

“In the four dioceses in the State of Kansas, there are a number of suicides that have been attributed by their family members to the sexual abuse of victims by members of the Catholic Clergy,” it said. “From 1960 through present, at least 15 victims of clergy sexual abuse committed suicide. These victims and, in fact, all victims suffered great harm by an abuser they trusted. Each victim was then further victimized by an institution that covered up the abuse and protected the predator, instead of adequately and justly handling the problem.”

The report said the number of instances of child sexual abuse by clergy members has declined in recent years, and the Catholic Church “seems to be taking steps to correct some of its actions from the past.”

“However, there are still measures that should be taken. … the church must show it has a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse within the church,” it said. “Everyone, but especially children, should feel safe and sheltered within their house of worship and with those employed or associated within the church.”

In Kansas, all of the state’s Catholic dioceses have released names of credibly accused priests. In addition to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, the Diocese of Salina published the names of 14 diocesan priests in March 2019 who it said had been credibly accused of abuse of a minor.

The Wichita diocese in September 2019 released the names of nine priests in the diocese with substantiated allegations and six who had spent time in the diocese and whose names appear on another diocese or religious order’s list. The number that appear on other diocesan lists now stands at 14.

And in October 2019, the Dodge City diocese published the names of 10 priests and two seminarians with substantiated allegations. That list has expanded to include 14 priests.

A similar investigation into priest sex abuse was conducted in Missouri several years ago.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt released the results of that year-long investigation in September 2019. The 329-page report included interviews with victims and a review of personnel records dating back to 1945 of more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women.

The investigation found 163 clergy members who had been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct of minors. Of those, Schmitt referred 12 former clergy members for possible criminal prosecution.

The report did not identify the 163 priests or provide details of where and when they were assigned. An AG spokesman said it would have violated state and federal law to do so.

At least one case developed from those referrals. A priest who served in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau before retiring in 2011 was charged in 2020 with forcible sodomy and deviate sexual assault in connection with the alleged abuse of a teenage boy in southeast Missouri in 2000. The case is ongoing and is scheduled for a hearing in Cape Girardeau on Jan. 23.

The priest sex abuse issue exploded in August 2018 when a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report finding that church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades. More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the internal church documents the grand jury examined, the report said.

The report contained horrific details of some of the abuse and prompted calls for change from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Shortly after the report was issued, then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced that his office was conducting a “thorough and robust investigation” of potential clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Hawley said his office had full cooperation from St. Louis church officials, and he encouraged the state’s three other dioceses to allow similar investigations. Those dioceses, including Kansas City-St. Joseph, quickly pledged their cooperation as well.

Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 2018, and Schmitt, his successor, continued the investigation.