Group to Distribute Anti-Abuse Leaflets Sunday after Mass

By Stan Finger
Wichita Eagle
January 4, 2003

Members of the nation's largest advocacy group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse plan to hand out leaflets after the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral on Sunday.

The leaflets, organizers say, urge victims of sexual abuse by priests to reach out for help.

The group is also calling on the Catholic Diocese of Wichita to release the names of all known abusive priests in the diocese.

"We in no way want this to be confrontational," said Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, who is president of the Kansas chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"We merely want to give parishioners a chance to think about the reality of sexual abuse and its consequences. It will not go away just by refusing to speak about it."

The cathedral at Central and Broadway was targeted, Patterson said, because it is the symbolic center of the diocese.

A request for comment from the diocese on Friday went unanswered.

Patterson's oldest son, Eric, committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 29, months after confiding to his family that he had been molested by the Rev. Robert Larson when he was a 12-year-old altar boy in Conway Springs. He is one of at least five former altar boys who served with Larson who have committed suicide.

SNAP, a self-help group dedicated to preventing abuse and helping victims heal, has 4,400 members and 30 local chapters across the country.

Barbara Blaine, a social worker and lawyer who founded SNAP more than a decade ago, will be among those distributing leaflets at the cathedral.

SNAP's national director, David Clohessy, said Eric Patterson's life and death -- along with the suicides by altar boys who served with Larson -- has touched group members around the country in a way no other case has.

"My fear is that there are more people, victims of Larson or other clergy abusers, who are still suffering and feel alone," Janet Patterson said.

After several men told The Eagle in August 2000 that Larson had molested them when they were young, still more came forward and filed criminal complaints against him.

While Larson denied abusing any of the boys who committed suicide, he did plead guilty in February 2001 to four sex crimes involving three altar boys and a teenager while he was the pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton in the mid-1980s. He is now serving a 3- to 10-year prison sentence in Lansing. Last October, he was denied parole until at least September 2004.

"Wichita's an important city, and there are victims that are hurting, and we want to reach out to them," said Blaine, who will be in Wichita this weekend

In August 2000, then-Bishop Eugene Gerber told The Eagle that four priests in the diocese other than Larson had been removed from the clergy for sexual impropriety in his more than 40 years as a priest.

SNAP wants the diocese to name them -- even if they have died or are no longer allowed to act as priests.

"It's a source of consolation and comfort for survivors to have those names made public," Blaine said.

Clohessy said SNAP is waiting until after Mass to distribute the leaflets so it does not distract from the service.

"We don't do it to be disruptive or to be uncomfortable," he said.

Still, he said, "I guarantee you there will be some that will be irritated."

Reach Stan Finger at 268-6437 or