A four-year investigation into Kansas’ Catholic churches has found 188 alleged predators suspected of committing “aggravated criminal sodomy, rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated sexual battery.”
The report also says there were 400 victims of sexual abuse in the Kansas archdioceses since 1950, but in most of those cases, either the clergy member has died or the statute of limitations has long expired.
The [Kansas Bureau of Investigation] originally focused on reports of clergy sexual abuse in the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses — Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas. It later expanded to include the Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway Catholic group known for its traditional Latin Mass with a large branch in St. Marys in northeast Kansas.
Some of the victims withheld vital information from investigators because they said they had signed non-disclosure agreements. In many cases, the report said, Church leaders failed to report allegations of abuse to law enforcement, failed to keep records of those allegations, and failed to conduct thorough internal investigations.
And, just as you’d suspect, there were instances where accused priests were merely shuffled to another parish while remaining on the Church’s payroll.
It’s a predictable yet troubling account of what we’ve seen in state after state ever since attorneys general began taking these matters seriously. After a Pennsylvania grand jury report came out in 2018, the floodgates opened. In some states, laws were enacted to put power back into the hands of victims by reopening a window for filing sexual abuse lawsuits that had previously been closed due to statutes of limitations. It’s not clear how Kansas politicians will act moving forward.
Whatever they do, if they do anything, it’ll be too late for some:
A few of the victims the task force dealt with were in prison and attributed that in part to the sexual abuse they’d endured as children, the report said.
“Our agents witnessed men, now in their 60s and 70s, break down in tears as they reported their sexual abuse to our team,” it said. “In many cases they have never previously disclosed the sexual abuse to anyone.
“Many times the victims thought they were the only victim of the offending priest. Following appropriate investigative interviews and actions, some victims learned for the first time they were not the only one the priest had abused.”
Some of the alleged victims had also died by suicide.
There are a couple of silver linings, that is if there can really be any in a situation like this.
One is that this investigation was requested by a Republican attorney general (Derek Schmidt), in response to a request from Kansas City Archdiocese Archbishop Joseph Naumann, which came after lawyers identified 15 clergy members who “warranted further investigation.” The people who may seem least likely to take these matters seriously did the right thing, though it’s possible public pressure had a lot to do with that.
The other is that the Church appears to be taking these matters more seriously. Too little, too late, no doubt, but it’s something. The allegations are more likely to have occurred decades ago than recently. That said, only a few dozen priests accused of abuse have been identified by name by the four dioceses in Kansas. The report suggests there are many more where those came from.
I would also highlight the report’s list of how the Catholic Church, despite cooperating with the KBI, hindered the investigation. The KBI cites non-disclosure agreements, Church officials using language that “minimized the seriousness or severity” of abuse, a failure to report abuse allegations to law enforcement, a lack of “transparent communication” with parishioners about the allegations, horrible recordkeeping policies, inadequate internal investigations, and an inability to hold people accountable for their roles in the abuse.
We knew a lot of those things already, but that means the Church’s willingness to assist with the investigation was hampered by the Church’s own actions in the past. The people who (sometimes unintentionally) destroyed evidence shouldn’t get much credit for supposedly opening their doors wide open to investigators.
As of now, no criminal charges have been filed in the 30 cases where the task force submitted affidavits. That’s likely because there are some hurdles (including death) that prosecutors can’t overcome. Justice will not be served in those cases.
Which means the only real consequence the Catholic Church in Kansas will ever face is the exodus of worshipers who call themselves Catholic. If you’re a Kansan who still attends or supports the Catholic Church with your time or money, you’re complicit in their actions. It’s not too late to break ties. Tradition is no excuse to prop up a criminal institution. If that leads to more of these dioceses going bankrupt, no one who cares about the victims is going to shed a tear. The Church has enough property and stashed artwork to sell to cover the costs of the trauma they’ve inflicted upon victims.
It’s long past time for the Catholic Church in Kansas (and everywhere else for that matter) to suffer for what it’s done to members.