PITTSBURG, Kan. — In one of his last acts as state attorney general, Derek Schmidt on Friday released the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s final report on allegations of child sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy in Kansas.
A letter from KBI Director Kirk Thompson accompanying the report notes that over the course of its four-year investigation, the KBI's Catholic Clergy Task Force reviewed more than 40,000 pages of records, received 224 tips, interviewed 137 victims of abuse, initiated 125 criminal cases and distributed 30 charging affidavits to prosecutors.
“To date, no prosecutor has filed charges, primarily due to statute of limitations concerns,” the letter notes. “Our investigations identified 188 clergy members suspected of committing various criminal acts, to include: aggravated criminal sodomy, rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated sexual battery.”
Schmidt initially requested that the KBI investigate allegations of Catholic clergy sex abuse in Kansas in late 2018, and in February 2019 asked victims to report cases of abuse to the agency. By July of 2019, the KBI made public that it was investigating allegations in 33 counties. By September of that year, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita released a list of 15 priests “against whom an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been substantiated.” Several of these clergy members had previously served in Southeast Kansas parishes.
Those on the list include:
Although the KBI investigation was reportedly initiated at the request of Kansas City Archdiocese Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the report notes that a Pennsylvania grand jury in 2018 “expressed extreme frustration for the lack of cooperation the Catholic Church provided during the investigation, as well as measures the Church had taken historically to hide the abuse from parishioners and the public.”
Many of the same issues encountered in the Pennsylvania clergy sex abuse investigation also occurred in Kansas, the report notes. Abuse allegations in the past were often not reported to appropriate law enforcement authorities and euphemisms were used extensively in diocese documents rather than words such as “rape,” according to the report.
“Terms such as ‘sick leave’ or ‘health leave’ were often used to describe the priest’s absence from the ministry. There were also other terms used such as ‘retirement’, ‘familiarity’, ‘boundary issues’ or ‘inappropriate contact,’” according to the report. “Known child abusers were sometimes referred to as having alcohol problems.”
The report also notes that the Catholic Church has become more cooperative in clergy sex abuse investigations in recent years.
“Because of our society’s situational awareness of child sexual abuse and the changes made within the Catholic Church, the number of instances of child sexual abuse, or any abuse by clergy members, have declined. In addition, the Catholic Church is now more willing to cooperate with investigations into this type of conduct instead of hiding the allegations and moving the offending priest to another parish or diocese after sending them to counseling,” according to the report.
Despite the report’s praise for the Catholic Church’s reform efforts, not everyone was convinced.
Running out the clock on potential criminal charges, and then becoming cooperative, is “the Catholic Church playbook,” according to Michael McDonnell, a spokesperson for the international Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“The Catholic Church will consistently say this is a thing of the past. We always say it’s a thing very much of the present and very much a thing of the future,” McDonnell told the Associated Press.
While the Catholic Church has taken some steps toward correcting its past actions, there are still additional measures it should take to “show it has a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse within the church,” according to the KBI report.
“Unfortunately, there will always be people who sexually abuse children, whether in society or within the Church. However, it is rightfully more egregious when a priest, who is in a position of authority within the Church, who vows to be celibate and is held as a model of holiness, then abuses a child.”
Following the publication of the KBI report, the Archdiocese of Kansas City released a statement on the findings.
“You cannot read this report without your heart breaking,” Archbishop Naumann said in the statement, which added that the Archdiocese shared information and collaborated extensively in the KBI investigation.