Calls to child abuse ombudsman for KC diocese increase 35 percent

09/05/2013 12:00 AM

09/05/2013 9:39 AM

Calls to the child abuse ombudsman for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph jumped 35 percent in the most recent reporting year, according to a report released Thursday.

According to the study by the diocese’s Office of Youth Protection, ombudsman Jenifer Valenti received 107 reports of child abuse or boundary violations for the year ending in June. She received 79 reports the previous year.

But Valenti said she welcomed the increase, saying it was inevitable after the diocese instituted sweeping anti-abuse training programs in the last year.

“I attribute it to greater awareness of personal responsibility,” Valenti said. “I see the greater numbers coming from our training on mandated reporting. That’s a great thing.”

Bishop Robert Finn announced the new child protection measures after the 2011 scandal over his handling of a disgraced Catholic priest’s production of child pornography. The Rev. Shawn Ratigan will be sentenced in federal court in that case next week.

A Jackson County judge also demanded regular reports on child welfare in the diocese after convicting Finn a year ago of failing to report suspicions of child abuse, a misdemeanor.

Most of the increase in calls in the 2012-13 report can be classified as “referrals,” Valenti said. She said 74 of the 107 calls were reports of child abuse or neglect about people who did not serve the diocese as clergy, employees or volunteers, including nine teachers and coaches outside the diocese.

Valenti referred 37 of those calls to civil authorities and sent others to counselors and social workers, the report said.

Valenti said she also has begun hearing more reports of young people sexually abusing their peers, a trend she described as alarming.

The report noted that the diocese received 17 reports of sexual abuse last year, two of which were substantiated. In both cases, the clergy members previously had been removed from public ministry. One case was from “decades ago,” Valenti said, while the other was from more than two years ago.

Investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing in six cases, while five cases ultimately were found to be unsubstantiated, a category labeled as “inconclusive” last year. Investigations are pending in three cases, and one cleric was referred to a religious order for review, but later was cleared after civil authorities completed their investigation.

Valenti investigated 16 reports of “boundary violations,” and two people tied to the diocese were removed from ministry, employment or volunteer service. After education and training, seven others returned to service at the diocese, while five were completely cleared.

One cleric was referred to a religious order for investigation of boundary violations and one investigation is pending, according to the report.

The diocese actually received fewer complaints of sexual abuse and boundary violations in the latest reporting period. In the 2011-2012 report, callers reported 20 instances of alleged sexual abuse and 20 alleged boundary violations.

Carrie Cooper, the diocese’s child protection director, said her office provided 92 counseling sessions to 28 victims of sexual abuse and their family members, and anti-abuse training to almost 10,500 Catholic schoolchildren, grades one through 12.

How to help

Anyone who suspects the abuse of a child should report it to the Missouri Child Abuse Hotline at

800-392-3738

or to local law enforcement.

If the abuse involves clergy, an employee or a volunteer in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, call ombudsman Jenifer Valenti at

816-812-2500 or send email to JeniferValenti@att.net.

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