Victims say Larson should serve the rest of his prison sentence

By Chris Strunk
Newton Kansan
July 30, 2004

WICHITA -- Victims of Robert Larson's sexual abuse said the former Catholic priest should serve more time in prison. Larson's supporters said he has been punished enough.

Former altar boys and retired priests talked to the Kansas Parole Board Thursday in Wichita, less than a month before the board will decide whether Larson will get out of prison.

Paul Schwartz, right, and Darren Razor, former altar boys at St. Mary's Catholic Church, talk to parole board members Paul Feleciano and Marilyn Scafe Thursday in Wichita. Robert Larson is eligible for parole in September. Photos by Medford Logsdon Newton Kansan.

Larson has been in Lansing Correctional Facility since March 2001 for fondling four kids about 20 years ago.

Serving a 3- to 10-year sentence, Larson is eligible for parole in September. The board will make a decision two to three weeks after it meets with Larson next week. Part of the board's decision-making was Thursday's public comment hearing.

Retired priests talk to parole board members Thursday, saying Larson, in prison since 2001, is old and his health is failing.

"He offers sorrow to the victims," said retired Monsignor Charles Regan, who joined three other retired priests at Thursday's hearing. "He offers sorrow to God, the church and to his brother priests."

The priests said Larson, 74, should be released from prison because of his age and his health. Larson, said retired priest Arthur Busch, recently suffered a heart attack and underwent heart bypass surgery two weeks ago.

Busch said Larson has behaved well in prison, has completed Department of Corrections and the Catholic church's sexual offender programs, has maintained a clean record since 1986 and has a support group waiting for him in Ohio upon his release.

Larson pleaded guilty in 2001 to molesting four former altar boys while he served as priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton during the 1980s. He was convicted in Harvey County District Court of felony indecent liberties with a child and three counts of misdemeanor sexual battery.

"We need a closure date, a day to prepare for," said Rachel Rodriguez of Newton. "That date should be March 29, 2006." Rodriguez said her son, Gilbert Rodriguez, and nephew, Paul Tafolla, killed themselves years after they suffered abuse as altar boys to Larson.

Larson was a priest in the Wichita Catholic Diocese for 30 years. He was removed from the diocese in 1998 after leaders acknowledged receiving several allegations of sexual abuse. Larson was sent to an institution in Maryland for treatment and was eventually stripped of his title and responsibilities as a priest.

Larson was living in Ohio when the charges were brought against him in Harvey County. Priests said Larson plans to return to Cleveland, Ohio, when he is released from prison.

Whatever the parole board decides, Larson will be released from prison under supervision in March 2006. His first parole eligibility in 2002 was denied.

Two of the former altar boys Larson admitted to molesting -- Paul Schwartz and Darren Razor -- were at Thursday's hearing.

Horace Patterson holds up the photo around his neck of his son Eric when Larson's friend talked about how good much good he has done.

"This affects me every day," said Schwartz, who lives near Kansas City. "Not as much as it used to. But it still affects every aspect of my life, relationships, work environment, religion. The whole life of Paul Schwartz."

Schwartz was 12 when Larson began molesting him. Schwartz served as an altar boy during weddings, funerals and other services.

He said the abuse was as routine as the work he did during the services. Larson would molest Schwartz minutes before most services began.

It was "alone time with Father Larson," Schwartz said. "It was standard operating procedure. ... I wasn't the only one. It was happening to others."

Janet Patterson, who her son Eric committed suicide after confiding about Larson to his family in 1999. She talked about another victim Daniel Romey who[se] sister could not attend the hearing.

But Schwartz said he was honored to have been chosen an altar boy. His mom and dad were proud. He kept quiet about the abuse.

Now 33, Schwartz said Larson stole his childhood and has haunted him as an adult.

"Robert Larson will eventually get out of prison," he said. "When will I and others get out of our prison? ... If the parole board lets him out, that's their decision. I've done everything I could, what I had to do. The rest is up to God."

Schwartz said he and Razor wanted the board to see the case for what it was: a man who pleaded guilty to a crime.

"I have a strong sense of doing things the right way," Schwartz said. "... I think you keep a man who has admitted his guilt in prison for the maximum."

Since the formal allegations, others have claimed their sons, including five who later committed suicide, were the victims of Larson's abuse.

"We need a closure date, a day to prepare for," said Rachel Rodriguez of Newton. "That date should be March 29, 2006."

Rodriguez said her son, Gilbert Rodriguez, and nephew, Paul Tafolla, killed themselves years after they suffered abuse as altar boys to Larson.

"I don't expect he will be held accountable in this lifetime for what he did," Rodriguez said. "But he will be held accountable some day."

To make its decision, the three-member board also will consider the nature of the crime, prior criminal history, program participation, disciplinary record, parole plan and prison capacity.

Two of the board's three members -- Marilyn Scafe and Paul Feleciano -- were at Thursday's hearing. Larry Woodward, who will retire from the board in mid-August, was not at the hearing. However, he will be part of the parole decision for Larson.


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