Anger, Sorrow at Larson Hearing
Ex-priest Robert Larson's victims argue passionately that he should stay in jail. His former colleagues ask the parole board to show mercy

By Stan Finger
Wichita Eagle
July 26, 2002

Some stood alone. Others gathered in groups for moral support.

They spoke with Thursday passion and pain to the Kansas Parole Board about Robert Larson, the former priest up for parole 18 months after being convicted of molesting altar boys.

A few asked the board to release Larson from prison as a gesture of forgiveness for the sex crimes he committed while he was a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton more than 15 years ago.

He was convicted of one felony count of indecent liberties with a child and three counts of sexual battery, and was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Larson, 72, is eligible for parole after serving half the minimum sentence.

But most said releasing Larson from prison after only 18 months would be an insult to his victims.

"I've lived with this since I was 12 years old.... I'm going to deal with this for the rest of my life," said Darren Razor of Newton, one of the four boys Larson admitted molesting.

Because he was abused on days he served Mass for Larson, Razor said, "every Sunday is a bad day for me."

Paul Schwartz, another of Larson's victims, pulled out wedding photos and showed them to the four-member parole board.

"I was abused on that day -- right there," Schwartz said, jabbing a finger toward the photos for emphasis.

Larson molested him the day of the wedding, where Schwartz was serving as an altar boy, and more than 20 other times over a 30-month period, he said.

Altar boys at St. Mary's learned to put their cassocks on before Larson arrived so he wouldn't have the chance to fondle them while claiming to make sure their shirts were tucked in properly, he said.

To this day, Schwartz said, he tucks his shirt in the same way: so Larson nor anyone else can get to his genital area.

Larson served as a priest in the Wichita Diocese for 30 years before being removed from St. Mary's in 1988 following a number of sexual abuse allegations. He was sent out of state for treatment and eventually stripped of his titles and duties as a priest.

After several men told The Eagle in 2000 that Larson had molested them while they served as altar boys for him in various parishes around the diocese, criminal investigations were launched in Sedgwick and Harvey counties.

The statute of limitations prevented Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston from filing criminal charges, and only four of the dozens of complaints filed against Larson in Harvey County fell within the statute.

The board will meet with Larson when it visits Lansing Correctional Facility on Aug. 5 and 6. A decision on whether he will be paroled should be available to the public several weeks after that and after Larson is notified, said Jennie Walker, victim services coordinator for the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Under state law, the latest Larson can stay in prison is March 29, 2006.

Angela Burger asked the board to release Larson, a man she said she saw work tirelessly for the needy of the community while heading the refugee relocation program during the 1970s. She simply doesn't believe most of the allegations against Larson, she said.

"What I hear today sounds more like revenge than justice," said Mary Peltzer, who has known Larson since he was ordained in the late 1950s.

But Mario Rodriguez, who says his son and nephew committed suicide because they were repeatedly molested by Larson when they were altar boys for him in Newton, said anyone who doesn't believe Larson was a sexual predator has their head in the sand, "and they ought to pull it out."

Relatives of five former altar boys for Larson who have committed suicide -- Gilbert Rodriguez, Paul Tafolla, Bobby Thompson, Eric Patterson and Daniel Romey -- also spoke at the hearing.

Ray Relph said he was abused by Larson 30 years ago at Church of the Resurrection, and he said that abuse has scarred him forever.

"I've spent my life trying to show that it didn't affect me," he said, stopping often to collect himself and wipe tears from his eyes. "It has affected me quite a bit.... You do not trust anybody."

Horace Patterson showed a video of his son, Eric, who committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 29, only months after confiding to his family that he had been molested by Larson while he was an altar boy in his hometown parish in Conway Springs.

"If Larson had never come to Conway Springs, he (Eric) would be alive today," Patterson said.

Denise Newman, who said she taught Eric Patterson in Conway Springs, evoked the words of Atticus Finch in the classic novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird": "In the name of God, do your duty."

After more than two hours of public comment, Larry Woodward, vice chairman of the parole board, said he had been moved by what he had heard.

"Your testimony will not be forgotten," he added, "when I see Mr. Larson."


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