Ex-Priest Will Go to Prison
Larson buried his face in his hands as Ice sentenced him to three to 10 years in prison for the felony crime of indecent liberties with a child and one year in jail for each of three counts of sexual battery, a misdemeanor.
Harvey County Attorney Matt Treaster had recommended a sentence of 90 days in the Harvey County Jail and five years of probation for Larson, who pleaded guilty last month.
But Ice said he just couldn't accept that.
"There's no question but what pain that's been caused to the victims is still going on," Ice said in pronouncing sentence. "Frankly, I cannot overlook that."
Treaster said he was pleasantly surprised at the judge's action. Ice said it was only the second time he had departed from an earlier plea agreement.
Larson, 71, is eligible for probation in 18 months, and Treaster said he would likely serve the full 10 years only if he "starts acting out" in prison or is released and then molests another child. Larson's immunity from further prosecution stemming from any incidents that may have happened elsewhere in the state, part of the original plea agreement, remains in place.
Years after they were abused, the pain that victims and family members still endure was evident in their voices at Thursday's hearing, which lasted nearly two hours.
"I feel like I have been given a life sentence," Rachel Rodriguez wrote in a statement read by Treaster into the court record. "My days are long, my nights are restless and my pain never-ending."
Rodriguez's son, Robert, was one of the four victims whose complaints formed the basis of the charges. Rodriguez said two other family members - her son, Gilbert, and her nephew, Paul Tafolla - were victims of Larson as well. Both men committed suicide.
The family of another suicide victim, Eric Patterson, watched the proceedings quietly, occasionally wiping away tears. Afterwards, Eric's father, Horace, said, "I feel about 100 pounds lighter" because of the sentence Larson received.
A story in The Eagle last August about Eric Patterson and other men who said they were abused by Larson as boys caught the eye of Paul Schwartz, Darren Razor and other men who had been altar boys for Larson at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton in the mid-1980s. They went to police with allegations of abuse, and criminal charges were filed last November.
"I do not know if you remember me, but I definitely remember you," Razor said, his voice halting, his eyes rimmed with red. "I remember that I used to like you, look up to you and respect you. . . . I thought you were the closest thing to God on Earth and that if I was close to you that I would be closer to God."
Razor said he thought he was special to be an altar boy, and he liked making his family proud when he served Mass in front of the congregation at St. Mary's, across the street from the courthouse.
"But then you, Robert Larson, changed all that when you started touching me," Razor said.
Schwartz said that he felt as if a badge identifying him as a sexual abuse victim was attached to him that everyone could see, much as Jews were forced to wear the Star of David in areas controlled by Nazi Germany.
Larson's lawyer, Dan Monnat, pleaded with Ice not to send Larson to prison. As a convicted child molester and a former priest, he said, Larson would be a prime target for other inmates.
Ice said he would notify the Department of Corrections that Larson is vulnerable to abuse and that the warden should respond accordingly.
Larson, who served in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita for 30 years, tried to control his sexual urges with prayer and self-control, Monnat said. But his drinking problem weakened his resolve and led him to abuse boys.
"He was full of denial about his sexual orientation and about the urgings that he had," Monnat said.
The treatment Larson received at Menninger Clinic in Topeka wasn't deep enough to identify and resolve his condition, Monnat said. It wasn't until Larson was removed from the diocese in 1988 and entered St. Luke's Institute in Maryland that he began receiving the treatment he needed - including the use of Depo-Provera, which has been nicknamed the "chemical castration" drug.
When it was his turn to speak, Larson turned to face his victims and their families.
"I stand before you today a man full of shame and remorse for the wrong that I've done," he said.
In his weakness, he violated the trust the children and their parents "had every right to expect from me," he said.
He asked forgiveness, too, for "the shame I brought my profession" and the damage his actions brought to the Catholic Church. Four priests and at least one nun from the diocese, who separated themselves from the crowd while waiting for the hearing, were among those on hand to witness the sentencing.
As Larson spoke, Schwartz's mother dissolved into tears and sagged against her husband's shoulder. Schwartz took turns looking at Larson and the floor as the former priest spoke, telling his victims they had done nothing wrong, had done nothing to deserve what happened to them.
"That tore me up inside," Schwartz would say later, "but it made it all worth it."
As the hearing was adjourned, Schwartz and Razor stood in the front row of the seating area, embraced each other and wept.
In the hallway afterwards, between more hugs and more tears, the two men and their families talked about new beginnings. Schwartz just bought a house in the Kansas City area, and his wife is expecting their first child.
Razor's journey home is much shorter - only a few blocks.
"I can close this chapter," he said quietly, "and start a new one in my life."
Reach Stan Finger at 268-6437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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