Some Catholic dioceses in Kansas still won't release their lists
By Bret Buganski
August 22, 2019
|Bishop Carl Kemme|
|Bishop John Brungardt|
|Bishop Gerald Vincke|
The Catholic Church is promising to be transparent. Its message is to begin healing from the scandal to find the priests who’ve been accused of sexually abusing children. But how forthcoming are the Catholic Dioceses in our area? Decades after some accusations, there are still many questions.
The Catholic Diocese of Salina released a list in March, 2019, including 14 names of priests with what the Catholic Church calls “substantiated allegations” of clergy child sex abuse.
The Salina list, indicates the year the priest was ordained, the list of parishes they served in and the estimated time frame of the abuse. It also lists if there is one allegation of abuse or more than one, but doesn’t list the total number of allegations. In Kansas there are 4 Catholic Dioceses, but only Salina and Kansas City have released theirs. Wichita and Dodge City have not yet released a list to the public.
“It says they can’t afford to be transparent, it looks apparent to me,” said Janet Patterson.
Her pain never goes away. The Patterson family accused Father Robert Larson of sexually abusing their son Eric for nearly a year while he was an altar server in Conway Springs. Eric took his own life in 1999 after years of battling depression. Janet said they didn’t know about the alleged abuse until months before he died.
Larson was convicted of molesting boys in 2001, and a judge sentenced the former priest to five years in prison. He served the rest of his days in a St. Louis treatment facility until his death in 2014. Although Larson’s case is widely known, there is no publicized list from the Diocese of Wichita that includes his name or any other priest.
When KSN News called the Diocese of Wichita and asked an official when the list will be released, the answer provided was that it “wasn’t complete” and was “under audit.” KSN also requested an on camera interview with Bishop Carl Kemme but was told he was “on retreat” and “unavailable.”
On its website, Bishop Kemme writes, “A pledge to heal,” saying the diocese will address “every instance of an allegation of sexual abuse.”
Patterson is frustrated to know a list has yet to be released by the diocese, but not surprised.
“That’s really not surprising because really they’re closed mouth about everything else, said Patterson. “That’s a shame.”
KSN also requested an interview with Bishop John Brungardt from the Diocese of Dodge City who declined our request for an on camera interview. The diocese released a statement saying, in part:
“The Bishop is cooperating with the task force and the diocese has engaged an independent auditor who is currently in the process of reviewing all clergy files, past and present. Findings of that review will be shared with the KBI and the Kansas Attorney General. The Bishop, in consultation with the Diocesan Review Board, will determine how best to share those findings with the public, including a list of substantiated claims of clergy sexual abuse with a minor.”
“If you can’t get the spotlight on this problem, you’re not going to be able to fix it in the dark,” added Patterson.
While Janet is glad the Diocese of Salina released its list, she feels the list is incomplete.
The list doesn’t outline which parish or parishes the alleged abuse took place, nor does it list the exact number of allegations, or if they’ve been accused in other places around the world. This week, members from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) criticized the Diocese of Salina for those reasons.
“We think that’s the bare minimum you should do to help protect kids, heal victims and help the church turn a page,” said former SNAP Director David Clohessy.
The Diocese of Salina also declined our request for an on camera interview. So what happens from these lists? Will anyone face criminal charges? With no chance to interview the bishops, we took our questions to Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett who explained the ongoing KBI investigation.
“It’s their responsibility to identify the allegations, it’s then the KBI’s responsibility to investigate the allegations,” said Bennett.
Bennett said the Kansas dioceses do their own internal audits. Then, the church turns over its findings to the KBI. But then, the KBI also asks members of the public to come forward to report clergy abuse allegations.
“And then see if we are within the statute of limitations; see if there’s a potential case to be made criminally, and at that point, they’ll bring their results to me,” said Bennett.
KSN asked Bennett, “will it be fairly easy to know if the church has been forthcoming given what the KBI gets and what the dioceses give you guys?”
“We’ll see,” said Bennet. “It’s hard to know what I don’t know yet,”
KSN also wanted to know if the KBI is giving the Kansas dioceses a deadline to turn over its findings, but the KBI declined our invitation for an on camera interview and to answer that specific question.