Lenexa’s Holy Trinity faces uproar over new priest with past sex abuse allegations

KCUR (NPR affiliate) [Kansas City MO]

January 30, 2024

By Andrew Gaug, Johnson County Post

Holy Trinity Catholic Parish announced earlier this month that Father John Pilcher had been appointed as its senior associate pastor. Pilcher was accused of sexual assault of a minor while working in Topeka, but the Kansas Bureau of Investigation could not substantiate the claims and no charges were filed.

A Catholic church in Lenexa is facing pushback from some of its parishioners after appointing a priest who previously faced a sexual assault allegation.

Earlier this month, Holy Trinity Catholic Parish announced it had appointed Father John Pilcher as its senior associate pastor.

During Pilcher’s introduction at the church’s Jan. 13 mass, Pilcher brought up the allegation that was leveled against him during his previous stop at a Topeka parish.

“If you Google my name, you will find that back in 2021 when I was pastor at Mater Dei, an allegation was brought up against me,” he said.

While working as a pastor at Mater Dei Catholic Parish in Topeka, Pilcher wasaccused of sexual assault of a minor.

An investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation left the claims unsubstantiated, and Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay declined to file charges.

When asked about the investigation, Melissa Underwood, KBI communications director, said they could not discuss specific cases if they did not result in an arrest or charge.

“In our criminal cases, if an allegation progresses to an arrest, or charges are filed, at that time we can name the suspect, nature and timeline of the crimes etc.,” she said. “However, to date none of the clergy cases (by the KBI Catholic Clergy Task Force) proceeded to an arrest.”

Following the investigation, Pilcher was allowed to return to his duties at Mater Dei. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas says it stands by this decision and his hiring at Holy Trinity.

“I want to acknowledge the gravity of this matter and assure you this allegation was found unsubstantiated after a thorough investigation by law enforcement and the Archdiocese, and a subsequent review by the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann stated in a press release.

Pilcher maintains his innocence and said that during the probe, he stepped away from his duties and cooperated fully with the investigation.

Church attendees concerned

Still, the allegation against Pilcher stirred emotions and worry in the Holy Trinity community.

In addition to the parish, its campus has a kindergarten through 8th-grade Catholic school and a child care center.

Following the announcement of Pilcher’s hiring, as well a follow-up announcement and a meeting between parisioners and Archbishop Naumann on Jan. 21, a Change.org petition asking for the immediate resignation of Pilcher is circulating online. It has has so far received more than 200 signatures.

“We are not here to judge Father John Pilcher,” a parishioner said. “We are, however, here to make the decisions in the best interest of our children. In this case, we don’t feel this decision is good for our school or parish.”

The parishioner was granted anonymity by the Johnson County Post.

statement by Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests also asked for Pilcher’s resignation.

“We have no choice but to err on the side of caution and skepticism, and to urge Catholics — in Topeka and throughout Kansas — to express their concern and be particularly vigilant,” the organization stated in a press release.

The response from the Archdiocese

The Archdiocese said it is taking all of the proper precautions to make sure parents and their children feel safe.

“Archbishop Naumann and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas take the safety of our children very seriously,” said Marissa Easter, director of communications of the Archdiocese. “As such, we strictly enforce safe environment protocols in all of our parish churches, schools, and entities.”

The archdiocese said safety protocols include requiring at least two adults to be present with a minor and children being taught tools to speak up if they feel uncomfortable.

Easter said the archdiocese is committed to meeting and answering questions from parishioners and residents.

She said it will continue to answers concerns via e-mail at abnoffice@archkck.org and asks anyone with knowledge of misconduct to report it immediately.

“We encourage anyone with knowledge about any misconduct by any church volunteer, employee, religious or clergy member to contact civil authorities first, and then make a report to our confidential report line at 913-647-3051 or online atwww.archkck.org/reportabuse,” she said.

This story was originally published by the Johnson County Post.