‘I want to apologize’: Area’s Catholic leaders say church failed on sexual abuse

People have a right to be furious after a Pennsylvania grand jury found that church leaders covered up sexual abuse by hundreds of priests over seven decades, the leaders of both Kansas City area Catholic dioceses said Thursday.

And, they said, church leaders must step up, show that they’re sorry and ensure the abuses never happen again.

“The widespread disgust among Catholics and others over the revelations included in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report is entirely justified,” said Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, in a statement responding to the explosive grand jury report released Tuesday. “So is the anger at and distrust of Catholic bishops.”

Johnston said the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese has experienced similar “shocking revelations” in the course of sexual abuse lawsuits, from those dating back decades through the more recent case of Shawn Ratigan. The former priest was charged in 2011 with child pornography in a case that resulted in then-Bishop Robert Finn being found guilty of failing to report suspicions of child abuse.

“What is needed now is not just promise of change, but a demonstration on the part of the bishops of a change of heart and deep contrition,” Johnston said. “Effective policies are crucial, but they can only be effective if the heart of those implementing them is one that aches for the suffering of victims of abuse and that burns for justice.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, issued a similar statement.

“I want to apologize on behalf of myself and my brother bishops for our collective failure in the past to protect innocent victims from unspeakable misconduct,” Naumann said. “And I ask for your prayers as the U.S. bishops’ conference tries to implement systemic changes that will ensure greater accountability of bishops so that crimes like these can never be perpetrated — much less, ignored — again.”

Naumann said he welcomed an announcement Thursday from the executive committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops about an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington. The U.S. bishops also said they wanted to open new and confidential channels for reporting abuse and misconduct by bishops and to advocate for more effective resolution of future complaints.

“I particularly welcome the news that all three of these goals will be pursued with substantive involvement by lay people in the development and implementation of the goals,” Naumann said. “But however much I am glad to see these developments, they can in no way mitigate the shame that attaches to the deeds reported — or the pain of the victims.”

The Vatican, which had remained silent about the grand jury report for two days, on Thursday condemned the abuse detailed in the document and said Pope Francis is on the victims’ side.

“The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible,” the Vatican said in a statement. “Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”

Two former Kansas City area priests are among those named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report: the Rev. Mark Honhart, who served in numerous parishes in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese from 1980 to 2001; and the Rev. Marvin Justi, who was co-pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Shawnee in 1972. Both priests later ended up in dioceses in Pennsylvania.

Ordained in 1980, Honhart was the subject of three sexual abuse lawsuits stemming from his time in Kansas City. The civil suits were part of a $10 million settlement the diocese agreed to in 2014 involving 30 lawsuits that alleged sexual abuse by priests. Justi, who was ordained in 1958, died of cancer in 2009.

The Pennsylvania report said the grand jury had investigated child sex abuse in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses. It heard testimony from dozens of witnesses and subpoenaed and examined half a million pages of internal diocesan documents.

More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from those documents, the report said, adding that because records were lost and other victims were afraid to come forward, the actual number is likely in the thousands.

“The report of abuses in Pennsylvania is shocking in its magnitude,” said Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has represented dozens of priest sex abuse victims. “But it is only an example of abuses that have occurred across the country and include this area.”

Randles said about 150 priests in Missouri and the Kansas City area have been accused of sexual misconduct, representing hundreds of victims.

In the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Randles said, 36 priests have had some form of sexual misconduct allegation leveled against them.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has received reports of at least 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct, Randles said, with reports of at least 61 priests in the Archdiocese of St. Louis; eight priests in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau; and 21 priests in the Diocese of Jefferson City.

“These statistics hide the shattered lives, loss of faith, shame and pain that abuse by God’s men leaves in its wake,” Randles said.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said Thursday that there have been 20 priests in the diocese who have been credibly accused and eight others who are not diocesan priests but were serving inside the diocese when the abuse occurred.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report said most of the abuse victims were boys. Some, it said, were teens, and many were preteens.

“Some were manipulated with alcohol or pornography,” the report said. “Some were made to masturbate their assailants, or were groped by them. Some were raped orally, some vaginally, some anally. But all of them were brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.”

Because of the cover-up, the report said, almost all the cases of abuse were too old to be prosecuted. The investigation resulted in only two criminal cases.

“We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated,” the grand jury said. “This report is our only recourse. We are going to name their names and describe what they did — both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve.”

The report comes just weeks after McCarrick resigned in the wake of accusations that he sexually abused minors and adult seminarians. And last month, the bishop of the Diocese of Cheyenne in Wyoming said that a former Kansas City priest who went on to become a Wyoming bishop had been credibly accused of sexually abusing two boys. Joseph Hart served as bishop and auxiliary bishop of Cheyenne from 1976 until his retirement in 2001. Before that, he was a priest in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese from 1956 to 1976.

The issue of abusive clergy erupted in 2002, when the Boston Globe’s investigation into a priest sexual abuse scandal and cover-up rocked the Catholic Church. That same year, U.S. bishops drafted a new set of policies designed to prevent future abuse.

Since then, the church has paid out billions of dollars in settlements to victims. The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese has paid about $30 million in settlements in recent years on lawsuits against priests, including Honhart.

The Pennsylvania report notes that on Feb. 2, 2011, the Diocese of Scranton was notified by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese that there was an allegation that Honhart — whose named is spelled Honart in the report — had sexually abused a boy in 1985 to 1986 when he was a fourth-grader at Holy Cross.

“The Diocese of Scranton withdrew Honart’s faculties and notified local law enforcement,” the report says. “Arrangements were made to relay the incident to law enforcement in Kansas City.” On Feb. 3, 2011, the report said, “Honart was assigned to a leave of absence for health reasons.”

Among the Kansas City area parishes Honhart served: Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Independence; Holy Cross; St. Patrick in St. Joseph; Immaculate Conception in Richmond, Mo.; Sacred Heart Mission in Norborne, Mo.; St. Rose of Lima in Savannah, Mo.; and St. Patrick Mission in Forest City, Mo.

Allegations against Justi surfaced in 2016, the grand jury report says. A woman reported that in 1969, when she was a 17-year-old nursing student at Sewickley Valley Hospital in Sewickley, Pa., Justi was a patient and she gave him a sponge bath.

“During the bath, he became sexually aroused and insisted that she continue to wash his genitals,” the report said. After that, the woman said, Justi sent her suggestive letters and notes. When her mother found them, she reported Justi to his superior.

Another incident occurred in 1982, the woman said, when she was working at a physical therapy facility in Ambridge, Pa., and Justi arrived as a patient. She said he undressed and refused to get dressed when she attempted to begin the session.

And in 1985, the woman said, Justi arrived at her house unannounced. While there, he used the restroom.

“He then reappeared in the living room naked with a freshly shaven genital area,” the report said. “He left after she picked up the telephone to call the police.” The report said that records contained “little to no documentation on any investigation conducted by the Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas said Thursday that its records show that Justi was a Capuchin priest assigned to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Shawnee from 1973 to 1976.

“We have no record of any allegations against him,” archdiocesan spokeswoman Anita McSorley said.