Priest defrocked for child sexual abuse still holds medical licenses in KS and MO

By Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
September 24, 2018

The Rev. John Wisner served in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

[with video]

A former priest in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas remains licensed to practice medicine in Kansas and Missouri despite being defrocked this year after church leaders determined that he abused three minors decades ago.

John H. Wisner, who had been a priest for more than 45 years, also is a psychiatrist who holds a medical license in both states.

The Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, which oversees licensing of doctors in that state, is investigating the allegations against Wisner, The Star has learned. If the board determines that he has violated the rules of professional conduct, Wisner could lose his license.

The Kansas Board of Healing Arts would not say whether it also was looking into Wisner’s case. In an email, executive director Kathleen Selzler Lippert said that “evidence of sexual abuse is one type of conduct that has been grounds for Board action.”

It is unclear whether Wisner is still practicing medicine. For years, he also served as an expert witness in numerous civil and criminal trials, among them high-profile murder cases and those involving sexual abuse.

Victims’ advocates said Wisner, 71, should not be allowed to retain his medical license.

“This is a matter of protecting the public,” said Patrick Wall, a former Catholic priest who works as an investigator for a Minnesota law firm that represents sex abuse victims. “Just because he was granted a medical license at one time doesn’t mean he has a right to have it for life.”

When contacted by phone, Wisner declined comment about the allegations or the investigation.

“I don’t even know about it,” he said.

Wall said not only should Wisner have surrendered his medical license, the archdiocese should have reported him to the licensing boards when it learned of the allegations six years ago.

“The archdiocese is the one with the knowledge,” Wall said. “They obviously know he’s a medical doctor.”

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas responded in an email on Friday: “The archdiocese doesn’t have anything more to add to the multiple statements it has issued on this matter in the past.”

Ordained in 1972, Wisner served as an associate pastor at St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park and worked at Sacred Heart and Christ the King parishes in Kansas City, Kan., and St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee.

In 1979, he joined the University of Kansas Medical Center as part of the psychiatry faculty while serving as an assistant professor at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. He later became director of the Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Unit at the KU Medical Center. Other positions included associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department.

Wisner retired in September 2012, according to the school, the same year the archdiocese first revealed the allegations against him.

Over the years, Wisner often was sought out by the media to comment on various psychiatric issues, appearing on CNN in 2004 to talk about the case of Lisa Montgomery, who strangled a pregnant woman in Skidmore, Mo., then cut the baby out of her womb and tried to claim the child as her own.

Wisner also made many court appearances to testify as an expert witness.

In 1995, he testified for the defense in Johnson County’s first sexual predator trial. The defendant had pleaded guilty to five felony counts of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child and had previous convictions for exposure, making obscene telephone calls and battery, which resulted from the attempted rape of his wife. At issue was whether the defendant would continue to commit sexual crimes against children if released from prison.

Wisner testified that he did not believe the man was a sexually violent predator.

In 1997, Wisner testified for the defense in the capital murder case of Gary Kleypas, who was convicted of raping and killing a Pittsburg State University student in 1996. The jury was hearing evidence to determine whether Kleypas should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.

Wisner testified that Kleypas’ problems could be treated through medication and a structured life, such as prison.

More recently — and after the archdiocese revealed that Wisner had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors — he was listed as an expert witness for the plaintiff in a 2014 case of a furnace repairman who sued Missouri Gas Energy for sustaining severe burns after a leaking unit exploded.

Wall said the use of Wisner as an expert witness in sex abuse cases raised serious concerns.

“If they relied upon his expert opinion, his independence and his ability to be a prudent and thoughtful expert, I believe, is completely compromised by his own personal criminal conduct,” he said.

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, said Wisner’s testimony could bring some of those cases into question.

“His testimony was probably impaired by the fact that he, too, is a predator,” Randles said. “And so he would be suspect in any cases where he said that the defendant was not a predator.”

The Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts began investigating Wisner after the Kansas archdiocese reported in its newspaper earlier this year that he had been returned to the lay state, or laicized, by a decree issued by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. The decree was affirmed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 2, but the archdiocese didn’t announce the action until May 25.

The archdiocese said that in 2012 it had received multiple allegations that Wisner had sexually abused minors. He was immediately suspended from active ministry and law enforcement was notified, the archdiocese said. An investigation by the archdiocese found the allegations to be credible, it said, and in November 2012, archdiocesan officials sent the results to the Vatican.

At the time, an archdiocesan spokeswoman said that Naumann had removed Wisner from active ministry after receiving a complaint from a 45-year-old man who alleged Wisner had inappropriately touched him in 1982 on a youth outing when he was 15. The archdiocese received two more allegations after that from men in their 40s.

Wisner denied that he engaged in sexual misconduct, the archdiocese has said. He was never criminally charged in relation to the decades-old allegations.

Wisner and the archdiocese settled a lawsuit last year with a man who accused Wisner of sexually abusing him when the man was a minor, said Randles, who was the man’s attorney.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, alleged that Wisner — identified in the suit as J.H.W. Jr. — sexually abused the alleged victim in the mid-1980s when the youth was between the ages of 15 and 17. Wisner held parties at his house at Table Rock Lake, the suit said, where he provided liquor to underage male parishioners and encouraged them to drink until they passed out, then sexually assaulted them.

At the time of the alleged abuse, Wisner was an associate pastor at St. Agnes Catholic Church and was also the victim’s primary physician, according to the lawsuit.

Records show Wisner received his medical degree from the University of Kansas Medical Center in 1976 with a specialty in psychiatry and was licensed to practice in Kansas in 1977. His current license describes him as a medical doctor with a specialty in forensic psychiatry and says “no derogatory information on file.” The license is set to expire on July 31, 2019.

Missouri records show Wisner is board certified in psychiatry and was licensed to practice there in 1979. Under “current discipline status,” the licensing document says “none.” The license is scheduled to expire on Jan. 31, 2019.

According to Kansas law, a license may be revoked, suspended or limited or the licensee censured or placed on probation for grounds that include committing “an act of unprofessional or dishonorable conduct or professional incompetency…”

Missouri statute says a person’s medical license can be revoked for “conduct that is unethical or unprofessional involving a minor.”

Randles said Wisner’s case came up in May at a legal forum about religion and the law. Wisner’s former attorney, who was on the panel with Randles, said he had asked Wisner why he thought other boys hadn’t come forward to testify against him.

“And he said Wisner’s response wasn’t, ‘because I’m innocent,’” Randles said. “His response was, ‘because they’re good Catholic boys.’”

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