Hays Friar Who Sexually Abused Tmp Student in Mid-90s Sent to Treatment Instead of Jail
By Cristina Janney
April 5, 2019
In 2001, Friar Ron Gilardi pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent liberties with a 14-year-old student at Thomas More Prep-Marian school.
However, Gilardi was not sent to prison. He ended up at a private treatment facility in Missouri along with other priests and friars who had been removed from the ministry based on sexual abuse charges.
Gilardi’s case was groundbreaking at the time, said Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, who is also a Catholic and TMP graduate.
Gilardi was prosecuted before the Boston Globe investigated and revealed widespread sexual abuse in the Boston dioceses and the systemic coverup by the church of sexual abuse by clergy.
Gilardi was accused of sexually abusing a male student from Texas in 1993 and 1994. The student was 14 and 15 years old at the time. The young man recovered repressed memories of the abuse in 1999 during a counseling session, Drees said.
Under the sentencing guidelines at the time, Gilardi, as a first-time offender, would have been facing a prison sentence of 32 months. With good behavior, he could have been released in 27 months, Drees said.
But as part of Gilardi’s plea agreement, he was ordered to the Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Mo., a private ministry that includes behavior health treatment. Drees said Gilardi was to remain on the locked grounds of the center at all times.
After 32 months at the center, Gilardi remained at the Vianney Renewal Center for two additional years on probation. His probation for the Hays case ended in March 2006.
“He remains under supervision even to today by the Capuchin order,” Drees said. “He is still under supervision and still does not have access to any children. He is not allowed to perform any ministry duties as a priest, so he is basically reduced to a life of prayer and penance.
“Instead of him serving 32 months in prison and releasing him, he has been under supervision now for 18 years.”
Drees likened Gilardi supervision under under the Catholic church as equivalent to him still being under probation with the court.
The family of the victim was consulted at the time about the terms of the plea agreement and agreed to the conditions of Gilardi’s sentence, Drees said.
He noted the Gilardi’s case was prosecuted in public court and his sentence was likewise open to the public, adding several media outlets did stories about the case.
Even today, Drees said he feels comfortable with the plea agreement and the final outcome for the case. He said agreeing to a deal that sent Gilardi to the Vianney Center was in no way an attempt to divert public attention from the case.
“It was a way to have him appropriately punished, and in this case, instead of the taxpayer paying to have him locked up, the order is paying to have him locked up,” Drees said.
He continued, “Just the opposite. I don’t think it is a way to hide it. I don’t think it is in any way lessened. He has been supervised for 18 years now.”
Gilardi, 71, is living at a similar center called RECON, also known as the Wounded Brothers Project, with at least four other convicted clergy sex offenders, all of whom are listed on the Missouri sex offender registry. Two of the men listed on the sex register are Capuchins, but did not serve in Kansas. The home is in rural Missouri near Roberstville, southwest of St. Louis.
Fr. Joseph Mary Elder, communications director for the Capuchins, visited Hays on Tuesday night for a listening session about sex abuse in the order.
He said was asked about RECON and the Vianney Renewal Center and said he couldn’t answer questions about the centers because they were run by a private Catholic ministry — the Servants of the Paraclete — and not the Capuchins.
The St. Louis Dispatch has been covering the Vianney Renewal Center and RECON for years. In a story in 2015, the publication reported the Servants of the Paraclete had purchased homes from neighbors of the center who expressed concerns about decreased property values because of sexual offenders.
The St. Louis Dispatch has also questioned the level of supervision and security at facilities at Vianney and RECON.
The Servants of the Paraclete have a troubled past. The order took in priests with histories of sexual abuse at its Jemez Springs, N.M., facility in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Mexico center is now closed. Some of the clergy who were treated at the facility were returned to service in New Mexico, resulting in a flood of sexual abuse reports and lawsuits in the dioceses.
Hays Post tried to contact RECON, but the only contact information that could be found for the center was a non-functioning email.
Hays Post also attempted to contact the Vianney Renewal Center, but a phone call was not returned.