Clergy Abuse Advocates Speak out about Predator Priests in Columbia
By Chloe Khaw
July 25, 2019
Two clergy abuse advocates from mid-Missouri spoke out Wednesday at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church on the need for people to know the truth about predator priests who might still be hiding and living in the community.
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is a support group for people who have been injured by “religious and institutional authorities,” according to the organization’s website.
David Clohessy, the group’s former executive director and a survivor of clergy abuse, held a news conference in front of the church. He held up cardboard signs bearing the names of alleged predator priests who have lived in Columbia. He was joined by Bob Heinz, a member of a similar organization, Voice of the Faithful, who held up pictures of clergy abuse victims.
“In a nutshell, SNAP has two missions: to protect the vulnerable and to heal the wounded,” Clohessy said.
He started the news conference by naming four “credibly accused” priests who allegedly molested children and were accused in other cities but had previously worked and lived in Columbia: former priest Fred Lenczycki, Fr. Kenneth J. Roberts, Fr. John Baskett (deceased) and Fr. James Gummersbach. Their names have not been added to Bishop W. Shawn McKnight’s list of priests who are credibly accused or removed from ministry in the Diocese of Jefferson City.
Lenczycki pleaded guilty to molesting three children in Illinois and was sentenced in 2014. In February, he was charged with abusing two boys in the 1990s at a St. Louis County parish.
Clohessy said he got these names from BishopAccountability.org, which is based on the official Catholic Directory and news stories.
None of the Catholic churches in Columbia could confirm the names of any of the predator priests who allegedly worked in the city.
Sacred Heart said its records do not go back far enough to check any of the names SNAP disclosed. St. Thomas More Newman Center did not respond to the Missourian before publication Wednesday evening. Our Lady of Lourdes redirected questions back to the diocese.
Clohessy said SNAP is begging Bishop McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City to add every credibly accused priest to the list, even if the person is no longer a priest or no longer lives in the area. The goal is to protect children, he said.
Even with the names that are already on the list, Clohessy said the bishop could be doing more.
“The first problem is that it’s incomplete, doesn’t have all the names,” he said. “The second problem is it’s not nearly as helpful as it could be, and that’s because the bishop refuses to list all the places where the predators worked.”
Clohessy said the list should also disclose where the priests worked and where they are now.
For example, he said, the list didn’t disclose that three priests already on the list had worked in Columbia: Fr. John Long and Fr. John Fischer, who were at Our Lady of Lourdes, and Fr. Donald Wallace, who was at Sacred Heart.
Helen Osman, the director of diocesan communications at Jefferson City, said the diocese objects to SNAP disclosing the whereabouts of the credibly accused priests and when they served in the churches. She said victims have asked that the information not be made public because the abuse usually happened in small communities. That heightens the risk that victims will be harassed.
Clohessy said that in his 30 years of service, he had never encountered a victim who wanted a bishop to hide the facts. He said it’s irresponsible of the bishop to keep that kind of information from the public.
“If the Columbia police say, ‘There’s a serial rapist in town, but we’re not going to tell you where those places are,’ citizens would be outraged, right?” he said.
Clohessy encouraged victims or people with any information about credibly accused priests to reach out to law enforcement. As a clergy abuse survivor, he said he knows it’s hard to speak out about the event or to even understand what it is when experienced at a young age.
Although he suffered the abuse between ages 11-16, Clohessy only reported it in his 30s. He said coming forward was healing. He felt more relieved after seeing the name of his attacker, Fr. John Whiteley, in newspapers.
“Break your silence and reach out to your friends and family,” he said. “That’s the way you heal and protect the kids.”