Kansas found 188 Catholic clergy accused of sexual assault. Now the state requires names

Janet Patterson recalls attending Catholic Mass in her parish near Wichita and hearing the congregation’s new priest lecture the parishioners.

“I remember him saying, ‘You should never criticize a priest,'” she said. “I sat in church with my son Eric, other children and my husband. And I remember thinking, “Who criticizes the priest?”

Only later did Patterson learn of the long list of sexual assault allegations against a previous minister, Father Robert Larson, who had just been transferred from that church in Conway Springs to another congregation in Newton, Kansas.

Ultimately, Larson was found guilty of molesting four boys. five of them committed suicide at a young age, including Patterson’s son Eric.

Eric died at the age of 29 in 1999, a few years before Larson’s conviction.

Reassigning priests and keeping their parishioners in the dark about the causes was just one way the Catholic Church kept sex offenders out of the spotlight. Larson rebounded from one place to another often for decades.

AND new report from Kansas Bureau of Investigation documents on how church actions protected molesters and hindered prosecution. The KBI found 188 clerics suspected of committing crimes including sodomy, rape and child rape.

But the national survivors group says Kansas needs to go further. The public report is only a summary of what KBI found.

“A blatant lack of names of the alleged rapists,” the Network of Priestly Abuse Survivors, or SNAP, said in a statement Monday. “We demand that this report include the names of the alleged rapists and that the archdiocese’s list of credibly accused be updated immediately.”

The group also urged Kansas lawmakers to “consider removing their civil statute of limitations and open a window of hindsight so more offenders can be identified and prosecuted.”

“Similarly, we hope they move to have clergy and church staff as required reporters, to have penalties and deterrents in place for not reporting abuses to authorities,” SNAP said in a statement.

The KBI report stated that Kansas dioceses regularly ignored church policy regarding allegations of violence. It states that many cases are too old to be prosecuted.

It also says church data indicates a decline in confirmed cases of abuse in recent years.

But SNAP says it’s still hard to know how many children have been sexually abused by priests in recent times because “many victims probably didn’t report it.”

The KBI investigation delved into 50 years of allegations and included thousands of documents. Investigators interviewed almost 140 victims.

Patterson says the numbers don’t capture the desperation that the cruel priests evoked.

“I would like people to understand that every number here represents someone who has been hurt,” she said. “And often that person suffered silently for years and years and years.”

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a news reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio dedicated to health, social determinants of health, and their relationship to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photographs may be published free of charge by the media with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2023 SDG 89.3. To learn more, visit KCUR 89.3.

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