Two Sue Area Catholic Diocese, Alleging Sexual Abuse

By Mark Morris
Kansas City Star
June 13, 2008

In one case, the mother of a man who died in 1999 makes accusations against Monsignor Thomas O'Brien, who has been named by at least a dozen other men in similar suits. In the other case, a man accuses Earl Johnson, a member of the Capuchin order, of sexually abusing him 30 years ago.

According to the suits, both clergymen worked at St. Elizabeth Parish in Kansas City during the 1970s.

The suits are the latest of about 20 local cases filed by 43 plaintiffs in recent years, alleging that clergy abused children.

Barbara Dorris, victims outreach director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the local church should listen to Pope Benedict XVI, who has said there is no room in the church for those who abuse children.

"When are you going to follow the pope's lead?" Dorris said. "When are you going to meet with the victims?"

A spokeswoman for the diocese declined to comment on the suits because she had not seen them. She encouraged all victims to report such abuse to police and church authorities.

"The diocese has made it known that we will respond promptly to all allegations of abuse," said Rebecca Summers. "Our policies affirm full cooperation with civil authorities and include lay involvement in responding to complaints."

Gerald McGonagle, a lawyer for O'Brien, said he could not comment until he had reviewed the suit.

According to the suit filed by the woman, whose son died in a 1999 car accident, O'Brien began abusing her son at the St. Elizabeth's rectory in 1972. The mother suggested that her son's rebellious attitude and drug and alcohol use stemmed from the abuse.

The woman alleges that the diocese knew of O'Brien's conduct and contends that she now distrusts clergy and suffers from shock, emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and humiliation. She also is caring for her son's five children.

Summers said that O'Brien was ordained in 1950, retired from parish ministry in 1984, and served as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002. Since then he has held no ministerial responsibilities.

The second suit, filed by an unidentified 41-year-old area man, alleges that Johnson abused him for about three years beginning in the late 1970s, when, as a boy, the plaintiff periodically would spend the night at St. Elizabeth.

The diocese and Johnson's order contributed to the abuse when a priest once closed the door to a room where Johnson was abusing the boy, knowing the abuse was going on, the suit alleged.

Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Dorris said her organization did not know where Johnson lived now, but thought he left the order some time ago.

Rebecca Randles, the lawyer who filed the suit, said her client encountered Johnson on a downtown street three or four years ago. Johnson told her client that he was teaching somewhere in the area, she said.

The Rev. Charles Polifka, provincial minister of the Capuchins in Denver, said he had not seen the suit and could not comment.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send e-mail to


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