Crime and Courts
Ex-priest could face charges
Harvey County officials say there's a "strong possibility" criminal charges will be filed next month against Robert K. Larson, accused of molestation.

By Stan Finger
Wichita Eagle
September 17, 2000

Criminal charges could be filed in Harvey County next month against a former Catholic priest who served in the Diocese of Wichita for 30 years, authorities say.

Several men have filed police reports alleging Robert K. Larson molested them while they were altar boys at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton, said Newton police investigator T. Walton. The investigation was initiated last month after allegations surfaced that Larson had molested altar boys in several locations over a span of 17 years.

Walton said he asked Harvey County Attorney Matt Treaster for permission to continue his investigation until the end of September.

"There's enough right now that I can turn it over and he (Treaster) can charge," Walton said.

Treaster said he would make a decision in early October about whether to pursue criminal charges.

"From what I've been told," he said, "there's a strong possibility charges are forthcoming."

A group of men who say they were molested by Larson will meet with lawyers Monday to discuss possible legal action against him. Larson was removed by the diocese in 1988 and sent to Maryland for treatment after the latest in a series of abuse reports.

Bishop Eugene Gerber has acknowledged that reports of abuse led to Larson's removal and has issued an apology to victims of sexual abuse.

Larson, 70, now lives in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby. He has declined to talk about the allegations.

The statute of limitations for filing criminal charges of sexual abuse in Kansas is five years. But Treaster said his reading of the statute is that the clock stops running when a suspect leaves the state.

Because Larson was at St. Mary's for most of the five years leading up to his departure, investigators say, the allegations most likely to result in criminal charges will come from Newton.

A half-dozen people have told The Eagle they have made reports to the exploited and missing children's unit of the Wichita Police Department, which is investigating the allegations for the Sedgwick County district attorney's office.

"This case is an ongoing investigation, and I expect it to be in that stage for a while," said Kim Parker, deputy district attorney for Sedgwick County.

No timetable has been established for determining what action, if any, will be taken as a result of the investigation, Parker said.

No official reports have been submitted to the Sumner County Sheriffs Department, according to a department employee.

Wichita lawyer Dan Monnat has been retained by Larson. Both Monnat and Gerber said the diocese was not involved in Larson's legal representation.

"Justice needs to take care of him," said Darren Razor, who said Larson molested him several times while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's in the mid-'80s. "I know it's happened to a lot more people than me."

Until he read The Wichita Eagle article outlining the allegations, Paul Schwartz of Lenexa said he thought Larson's treatment of him at St. Mary's -- the fondling, the stroking of his legs similar to being frisked -- was simply "the process of being an altar boy."

"I reacted very much as if it were a physical and you were at the doctor's office," said Schwartz, adding that the number of times Larson molested him is "too many to count."

"My reaction was, 'I don't like this, this is uncomfortable, I hate it. But it is something I have to do.'"

When Walton asked him why he was filing a complaint now instead of years ago, Schwartz said he told Walton he hadn't realized then that what had happened to him was perhaps a crime.

"When you're 13 years old ... you're more worried about playing baseball or whether your bicycle has a flat or whether you can make it to the swimming pool that day, than what sexual abuse is and whether or not it's a crime," he said.

Larson has been accused of molesting boys at Church of the Resurrection, the Catholic Center for the Aging, St. Joseph's in Conway Springs and during his second stint at St. Mary's in Newton. The latest allegations involve St. Thomas Aquinas School in Wichita, where Larson taught religion to middle school students in the late 1960s while serving as pastor at Resurrection, and Larson's first appointment to St. Mary's in

A 32-year-old Wichita man who says Larson molested him in 1981 while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's said "there are a number of us out there."

At a reunion five years ago, former male students at Aquinas were asking each other whether they had been molested by Larson, according to a former student who attended the reunion. The student, now in his 40s, lives in South Carolina. He says he was molested by Larson.

Former Aquinas student Ann Abel of Wichita said she remembers Larson taking boys from the classroom into the hallway "under the guise of reprimanding them," tucking their shirts in or adjusting their belts -- and fondling them as he did it.

"You could see that," she said. "He didn't bother to shut the door."

Abel said she told her mother about what was going on, but her mother didn't believe her.

Abel is trying to contact male schoolmates who attended Aquinas in the late '60s and early '70s to ask them about their experiences with Larson.

Allegations about Larson had surfaced as early as 1981, Gerber said, prompting the priest to be sent away for what was described as alcohol abuse treatment.

Larson was returned to parish duties, but concerns raised by observations and rumors in 1984 led Gerber to have Larson evaluated by the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. Larson was cleared by the clinic to continue parish duties in 1985, Gerber said, before reports three years later led to his removal.

Several men who claim Larson molested them said they would like to form a support group for victims of clergy abuse, so they can learn from one another.

"My main concern is for the other victims, to see if there's anything I can do," said the 32-year-old former St. Mary's altar boy who lives in Wichita. "It did happen, and we need to do something about that in a good, positive, healing way."

Reach Stan Finger at 268-6437 or sfinger,a!

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