A Kansas Bureau of Investigation report released late Friday documents the state’s chronic history of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the church’s history of protecting its clergy.
Report Released by the state’s Attorney General’s Office, it states that dioceses across the state often do not comply with church policy regarding allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“By any objective assessment,” the report says, “there were practices designed to hide the truth about what happened.”
The task force that conducted the review stated that efforts to prosecute the cases were hampered by the actions of the church, the statute of limitations, and the deaths of both the alleged rapists and their victims.
In late 2018, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the KBI to launch an investigation following the release of documents by Kansas Catholic dioceses on allegations of sexual assault.
The resulting 25-page summary report issued by Schmidt’s office looked back 50 years. The KBI said it reviewed over 40,000 pages of records, received 224 messages, interviewed 137 victims, and filed 125 criminal cases.
But that has yet to result in new criminal charges, the KBI report says, largely because the cases were so old that state law prevented prosecution years after the alleged violations.
However, the KBI report states that the agency has identified 188 clerics suspected of committing crimes including sodomy, rape, and child rape.
“The violations uncovered during the investigation had a profound impact on the victims, the families of the victims and members of our task force,” KBI Director Kirk Thompson wrote in a letter to the Attorney General accompanying the report. “Those victims whose lives were traumatized by what happened to them as children showed hope, strength and resilience in the face of extreme adversity.”
The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, released a statement Saturday morning thanking the Attorney General and the KBI for their work. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said he joined bishops across the state in “giving his deepest apologies to the victims, their families, the faithful of the church, and the Kansas Catholic community at large.”
In the report, the KBI task force traced the start of the scandal to reports from The Boston Globe in 2001 and 2002. She noted the subsequent defrocking of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for his role in the sexual abuse of both seminarians and minors. The KBI report notes that he was eventually given refuge in a monastery near St. Fidelis’ Basilica in Victoria, Kansas.
But the task force also concluded that the church made improvements as early as 1998 to hinder the practice of defending priests facing abuse allegations. The KBI said the church has become less willing to transfer clergy to other parishes or dioceses to shield them from charges or possible prosecution.
“A review of church data,” the report says, “indicates a decline in justified abuse over decades, especially in recent years.”
In a statement, Archbishop Naumann said the diocese has adopted a “victim-centered approach using restorative principles to address the serious harm of abuse.”
Nevertheless, the KBI’s work is a damning analysis of the Kansas dioceses. And he complained about issues that made it difficult to investigate systemic issues, including “the inadequacy of Catholic diocesan record keeping policies and systems” on allegations of sexual assault.
Investigators also said they were stymied after some of the victims refused to cooperate because they had signed non-disclosure agreements in settling civil lawsuits against the dioceses. Other victims contacted the task force “but then decided not to participate in the investigation.”
Even fewer investigators were able to talk to priests accused of sexual harassment.
“In the vast majority of cases,” the report says, “the perpetrator of sexual assault was unavailable due to death, the statute of limitations in the case was running out, or health reasons were unable to participate in the investigation.”
At some point in the KBI investigation, investigators traveled to a ranch run by the Province of the Capuchins, a Catholic religious order active in Kansas and elsewhere. The report states that the ranch “is home to several delinquent priests.” The priests refused to meet with the CBI agents.
And, as the report says, “in many cases the victims or the priests were dead.”
The report stated that church officials tended to use language that “minimized the seriousness or cruelty of actions and abuses” on the part of priests. For example, instead of the word “rape,” church officials would say “inappropriate contact.”
“Instead of characterizing the priest as a criminal or rapist, they softened the wording and indicated that the priest may have “border issues,” the report says.
And for decades, the KBI concluded, church officials did not report allegations to the police and conducted only superficial investigations of their own.
The task force found that when the church took action against priests, it talked about their dismissal due to retirement or sick leave, or said that the clergy were dealing with alcoholism, rather than telling the congregation that they were pedophiles.
“Even if the church proved that the priest raped or sexually abused others, including children, the church often continued to provide the priest with housing and living expenses,” the report says. “In some cases, priests were able to commit additional child abuse.”
The report called the practice of transferring priests to other parishes to protect them from abuse allegations “appalling”.
He described the diocesan investigations as “inconsistent and inadequate” and noted the practice of transferring priests and their financial support after they were the targets of allegations of sexual harassment.
Scott Canon is the editor-in-chief of the Kansas News Service, created in partnership with KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio, and specializes in health issues, social determinants of health and their relationship to public policy. You can contact him on Twitter @ScottCanon or email scott(at)kcur(dot)org.
Kansas News Service stories and photographs may be published free of charge by the media with attribution and a link toksnewsservice.org.
Copyright 2023 SDG 89.3. To learn more, visit KCUR 89.3.