Faith

Seminary removes Kansas priest from list of honorees after learning of sex abuse claims

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in 2011 suspended the Rev. George Seuferling (pictured in 2001) from public ministry because of what it said were substantiated allegations of misconduct. The archdiocese further restricted Seuferling in 2016 after confirming more incidents of misconduct. The allegations did not involve minors, the diocese said.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in 2011 suspended the Rev. George Seuferling (pictured in 2001) from public ministry because of what it said were substantiated allegations of misconduct. The archdiocese further restricted Seuferling in 2016 after confirming more incidents of misconduct. The allegations did not involve minors, the diocese said. File photo

A St. Louis seminary about to honor a Kansas priest for 60 years in the ministry pulled his name from the program after learning he’d been suspended five years ago by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas for inappropriate conduct.

Kenrick-Glennon Seminary was alerted to the case of the Rev. George Seuferling not by the archdiocese, but by two of the priest’s victims.

Seuferling, 85, was to be recognized last week as part of the seminary’s annual Alumni Day celebration. He was listed as a “Diamond Jubilarian” from the seminary class of 1956.

“I was horrified that they were going to celebrate 60 years of priesthood, which was actually 60 years of violating the vows he took,” said Laurel Menne-Dibb, one of the victims who contacted the seminary. “It feels like we’re being victimized all over again.”

A seminary spokeswoman told The Star that Menne-Dibb’s husband and another victim alerted seminary officials about Seuferling on Oct. 3.

“Prior to their emails, we had only been told that he was ‘retired’ and were unaware of any concerns about him,” said Kate Guyol. “As soon as we received this information, we removed him from the list of priests celebrating jubilees at our Alumni Day.”

Seuferling retired in 2001 after spending his last 15 years as pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Shawnee. News of the sexual misconduct was first made public in 2014, when the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas announced in The Leaven — the archdiocesan newspaper — that it had restricted the priest’s duties after receiving what it said were two credible allegations of inappropriate conduct.

When asked for a response to the seminary’s removal of Seuferling last week from its list of honorees, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas referred The Star to a Feb. 26 statement that ran in The Leaven.

In the statement, the archdiocese revealed that Seuferling had been suspended from public ministry in 2011 “due to conduct inconsistent with priestly celibacy.” But since then, the archdiocese said, it had learned of other substantiated misconduct, including one incident that occurred after Seuferling’s suspension. None of the incidents involved minors, the statement said.

The archdiocese said it had placed further restrictions on the priest and that “due to ongoing concerns” had petitioned the Holy See for Seuferling’s laicization, or defrocking.

Church officials did not respond to The Star’s questions about criticism that it had not done enough to alert the public about Seuferling’s misconduct.

Menne-Dibb, who now lives in Wisconsin, told The Star she was sexually abused by Seuferling in 1976. She was 24, she said, and had gone to him for confession.

Last week, after Menne-Dibb found out that Kenrick-Glennon Seminary planned to honor Seuferling, her husband sent an email to seminary officials.

“Over the years several of the victims have come forward and many have connected personally to share their stories and they all hope for this monster to be quieted and brought to justice,” he wrote on Oct. 3. “Even at his advanced age, reports of his abuses continue to surface from the recent past.”

Although the archdiocese stresses that none of the allegations involved minors, he said, it doesn’t reveal how many young women were abused.

“Any doctor, lawyer, police officer or teacher that uses their position to exploit young women seeking counsel or comfort would face criminal charges, yet Seuferling and abusive members of the clergy like him seem to run under the radar, generally with the protection of their superiors,” he said. “Where is the justice or justification to honor this man’s so-called ministry?”

The other victim, who lives in New York and asked not to be identified, told the seminary that Seuferling had raped her in 2002.

“Even since then, more allegations have come forth — some from the past, dating back to the 1970s, and some quite recent, according to the Archdiocesan officials,” she wrote in an Oct. 3 email. “During my painful ordeal of reporting Fr. George, I have repeatedly come across instances in which Fr. George was being honored in some capacity, either by local communities or the greater institutional Church itself. He continued to say Masses after he was suspended. He has repeatedly shown that he has no respect for his suspension. I am shocked and saddened that your seminary would honor him.”

She said that since 2011, she has begged the archdiocese “to be transparent and honest to all places Fr. George had been associated.”

“Thus, you should have been notified years ago,” she told the seminary. “... I feel like I and other victims have had to speak out about his misconduct, even when the Archdiocese does not.”

Guyol quickly responded to both victims, thanking them for bringing it to the seminary’s attention. “I would first like to apologize for any further suffering this public listing of his name has caused you...” she said in an email.

She said the seminary had “promptly removed his name from the list of jubilarians on our website and from the Alumni Day program.”

“Unfortunately, during our preparation for this event, I had simply been told that he had ‘retired,’ ” Guyol wrote. Until their emails, she said, “we had no record in our development office database of these allegations. I have since added this important information to our records to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Guyol said Seuferling “does not represent our institution OR the Holy Priesthood.”

“We will not be recognizing or honoring him on Wednesday or at any time in the future,” she wrote.

The women said they were pleased with the seminary’s response.

“I just sobbed the whole time I read it,” Menne-Dibb said. “It’s always seemed like nobody is ever on our side.”

The women said, however, that they shouldn’t have to be the ones to monitor Seuferling.

“I continue to be dismayed by the failure of the archdiocese to appropriately notify others of Father George’s situation,” the New York woman said. “It’s very frustrating to feel like we victims have to keep our eye on him.”

Until recently, she noted, the archdiocese’s archbishop, Joseph Naumann, had served on the seminary’s board of trustees.

“You’d think a member or former member of the Board of Trustees would be more dutiful,” she said, “about sharing info about one of his priests.”

Judy L. Thomas: 816-234-4334, @judylthomas

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