Lawmakers, survivors call on Kobach to release names of priests investigated for abuse

Kansas City Star [Kansas City MO]

January 20, 2023

By Katie Bernard

Survivors of sexual abuse are calling on Kansas’ new attorney general, Republican Kris Kobach, to release the names of Catholic priests investigated by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for perpetrating or ignoring abuse. A coalition of sex abuse survivors, lawmakers and advocates made the plea outside the Johnson County Courthouse weeks after Kansas’ previous attorney general, Republican Derek Schmidt, released a 21-page summary of a multi-year investigation on his last full business day in office. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation identified 188 clergy members suspected of abuse and referred 30 cases to prosecutors, all of which could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations. The investigation spanned claims from 1950 to 2022 and identified 400 victims but did not name the accused clergy members.

“We believe, quite frankly, that there are dozens of potentially dangerous child molesting clergy who the current attorney general knows about and should share those names with the public,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Parents can protect their children from threats if they know who poses a threat.” John Milburn, a spokesman for Kobach’s office, said the new attorney general’s team was “reviewing the work that was done under former Attorney General Derek Schmidt and former KBI Director Kirk Thompson.” Milburn had previously served as Schmidt’s spokesman.

Compared to similar investigations in other states the summary report Schmidt released is short and sparse on details. In 2019, then-Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican now serving in the U.S. Senate, released a 329-page report that detailed cases but did not provide the names of accused priests. The report found 163 clergy members accused of abuse. The survivors are also seeking reform to Kansas’ statute of limitations law, one of the strictest in the nation, which requires survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits by the time they reach 21.

The short limit creates barriers for survivors who may feel unable to come forward because of family dynamics or because they are not yet prepared to confront the abuse and trauma within the legal system. Several survivors of child sex abuse spoke at the press conference about their inability to pursue criminal or civil cases against their abusers because the statute of limitations had passed by the time they were ready. Mike Foreman, one of those survivors, said he was assaulted by a Catholic priest the age of 11 but repressed the memory until he was 49. He said the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas used the statute of limitations to fight him when he sought justice at the time. “I am absolutely, 100% certain, that every citizen in the entire state of Kansas, if in my exact shoes, would be every bit as painfully desperate for their day in court as I am,” Foreman said. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Topeka are pursuing legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations on the cases but similar bills stalled out in the Legislature in previous years.