Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse Served in Wichita

By Stan Finger
Wichita Eagle
May 8, 2010

A priest removed from his duties in the Denver archdiocese last month after allegations arose that he sexually abused a young boy decades ago was ordained and served in the Wichita Diocese early in his ministry.

The Rev. Mel Thompson was removed as assistant pastor at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Centennial, Colo., on April 8. That came one day after a complaint was filed against him for "past sexual misconduct with a minor that reportedly occurred in the early 1970s," according to a letter written by Archbishop Charles Chaput published in the Denver Catholic Register.

Thompson, 74, maintains his innocence, and Chaput defended his decision to act quickly in the matter.

"We take all allegations of abuse seriously," Chaput wrote in the diocesan publication. "Prompt action is painful for the whole local church, but it's a necessary course to protect people's trust in their parish and in the archdiocese."

Police officials told the Denver Post that criminal prosecution in the matter is not possible because the statute of limitations on the potential offenses has expired.

Thompson was ordained to the priesthood in 1967 by Bishop Leo Byrne of the Wichita Diocese.

He served as an associate pastor at Blessed Sacrament parish in east Wichita and as a chaplain at the VA hospital in Wichita from 1967 to 1969, according to Amy Pavlacka, a spokeswoman for the Wichita Diocese.

He requested and was granted a transfer to the Denver Archdiocese in 1969.

No allegations of impropriety have been lodged against Thompson for his time in the Wichita Diocese, Pavlacka said.

Janet Patterson, the president of the Kansas chapter of SNAP — the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests — said she has questions about Thompson's transfer.

"I don't understand why you would have someone only here for two years and — zip, they're gone," she said.

Diocesan records indicate Thompson requested the transfer so he could be closer to friends and family, Pavlacka said.

Patterson's son committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 29, shortly after confiding he had been sexually abused by their parish priest when he was an altar boy in Conway Springs in the early 1980s.

The priest, Robert Larson, pleaded guilty in 2001 in Harvey County District Court to abusing three altar boys and a 19-year-old man while he was pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton. He was posted to Newton after his year in Conway Springs.

He served five years in prison — the longest term possible under state law at the time of the crimes — before being released in 2006. He is currently residing in the Vianney Renewal Center southwest of St. Louis, which houses priests who are sex offenders or are in need of what the center describes on its website as "intensive renewal or treatment."

Patterson said she has added Thompson's name to SNAP's list of suspected abusers in and around the Wichita diocese.

She said it can be difficult for victims to admit they were abused because of the shame and guilt they typically feel — as well as feeling like they were the only ones targeted.

"There's a lot of hurt and pain" for survivors, she said.

To make it easier for victims to reach out, Patterson suggested they call SNAP's Kansas chapter at 620-456-2330.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or .


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