Missouri and Kansas authorities need to launch grand jury-style investigations into clergy sexual abuse crimes and cover-ups in the Catholic church similar to the one conducted in Pennsylvania, a local attorney and abuse victims said Monday.
“When we received the grand jury investigation from Pennsylvania, it was shocking and it was saddening,” said Rebecca Randles, who has represented hundreds of victims in clergy sexual abuse cases. “And then I sat down to try to figure out, well, how many priests in the Kansas City area, the St. Louis area and KCK had been similarly abusive?”
The number, Randles said, was astounding.
“We have over 230 priests that we know of that have been sexually abusive in this area,” she said of her accounting of those who have been accused. “And our population centers are much smaller. So it details that there is an even greater issue in the Kansas City, St. Louis, Missouri areas and the Archdiocese of Kansas than what we’re seeing in the grand jury report out of Pennsylvania.”
But only a handful of priests, she said, have been charged and one bishop punished.
Randles spoke at a news conference along with four men who said they had been sexually abused by priests in Kansas and Missouri. All called on both states’ attorneys general as well as local prosecutors to investigate.
“I was in third grade when it started,” said Tom Viviano, who filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 2016 alleging he was the victim of repeated sexual abuse by a priest who has since died. “It stopped in eighth grade when I moved away.
“I’m now 62 years old,” he said, pausing several times to regain his composure. “And I still live with the pain of what happened to me when I was in grade school. What I’d like to see is a true, open, honest investigation. The church has not come forward. They want to offer up perhaps a prayer or a Mass of forgiveness. It doesn’t help. Doesn’t go far enough. What I’d like to see is a true accountability.”
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said Monday that it was up to local prosecutors to investigate such criminal allegations.
“Missouri law gives the power and responsibility for criminal allegations of this kind to the elected prosecuting attorneys in our various counties,” Hawley said at a news conference in Kansas City, North. “The Attorney General’s office under the law is there to assist those prosecuting attorneys if they so request, and we stand ready to do so.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement that her office “has placed a high priority on protecting children from all kinds of abuse.” She noted that in 2011, the office used a grand jury to investigate a child pornography case against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese that resulted in the indictment of Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report abuse.
After that, Baker said, the diocese hired an ombudsman who regularly communicates with the prosecutor’s office about abuse allegations.
“We welcome this partnership, but rest assured we won’t stand idle when children are victimized,” Baker said. “We have reviewed and investigated other allegations of abuse by church officials since 2011. Those cases, however, proved to be beyond our reach for criminal charges because the statute of limitations had passed.”
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Attorney General’s office said she was working on a response late Monday.
The Pennsylvania report, released last Tuesday, said the grand jury had investigated child sex abuse in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses and found that church leaders covered up sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades. More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the internal church documents the grand jury examined, 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.
Two former Kansas City-area priests are among those named in the explosive 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 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 32 lawsuits that alleged sexual abuse by priests. Justi, who was ordained in 1958, died of cancer in 2009.
The Pennsylvania report contained horrific details of some of the abuse and prompted calls for change from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The U.S. bishops said they wanted to open new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops and advocate for more effective resolution of future complaints.
The leaders of both Kansas City-area dioceses said last week that people had a right to be furious at the Pennsylvania grand jury’s findings. They said church leaders must step up, show that they’re sorry and ensure the abuses never happen again.
And on Monday, Pope Francis released a 2,000-word letter admitting that the Vatican hadn’t done enough to address the issue.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” Francis said. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
Emotions ran high at Monday’s news conference as the four men shared their stories.
“From 1981 to 1984, I was the victim of sexual abuse by a priest,” said Scott Goodloe, who alleged abuse by a priest in Overland Park. “I settled my claims with the (former) archbishop ... and with the diocese in 1999. However, my abuser has never been named publicly and has never been held accountable.”
Goodloe said his goal wasn’t to tear down the church.
“I don’t seek to shake the faith of people and I don’t seek to destroy the Catholic church, because there are so many good people involved in it,” he said. “What I want is justice, an honest and heartfelt apology from the leadership, and less defensive posturing from these same leaders.”
The lack of transparency needs to be corrected for true healing to begin, Goodloe said.
“As we’ve seen today with the events in Pennsylvania, there’s a need for accountability and true reconciliation in the church,” he said. “But there are people who wish to suppress these voices. I urge all people of faith to consider that if these victims were members of your family, what justice would you seek for them?”
Michael Sandridge, of Kansas City, said hearing reports about the Pennsylvania grand jury last week was “like a flashback for all of us.”
“The lack of transparency for these two dioceses, Kansas and Missouri, is appalling,” said Sandridge, whose lawsuit against the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese was part of the large settlement in 2014. “It’s time to stop the lying and the coverup. This is a problem that doesn’t go away, and it needs to be stopped as much as possible.
“The pope has said that he wants everybody prosecuted to the full extent of the law. So let’s just all get together and make it happen.”
Mike Foreman struggled to keep his anger in check as he talked about what he described as “childhood sexual assault” by a priest in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Though the archdiocese settled lawsuits with other victims of the priest, he said, it deemed his allegations not credible. He also filed a lawsuit, but lost the case because the state’s statute of limitations had expired.
Foreman said the “unfair statute of limitations defense has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on what a Catholic priest actually did to me when I was 11 years old, or how it has horribly affected and infected my whole life.”
Naumann responded to the news conference in a statement Monday afternoon.
“We are concerned about victims of clergy sexual abuse, regardless of how long ago the abuse took place and we’re committed to assisting them in their recovery,” he said. “We also encourage anyone who feels they have been a victim of abuse by a priest, deacon, employee, or volunteer of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to report that abuse.”
He said both current and historic cases are taken up by an Independent Review Board composed primarily of lay mental health and law enforcement professionals along with a victim of clergy sexual abuse.
“The board receives the results of the investigation,” Naumann said, “offers to interview the person making the allegation and the accused, and then makes recommendations to me.”
The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said that “we cooperate fully with law enforcement and are eager to do so in order to prevent and eliminate dangers to children and vulnerable adults.”
“Our independent Ombudsman immediately reports accusations of abuse to law enforcement even before she investigates them,” the diocese said. “If Ms. Randles, or any other person, is aware of a situation of abuse, no matter how long ago, we want to know about it, because we want to make sure that perpetrator is out of ministry and that victim is given help in healing.”
Randles said the next step is for her clients who wish to do so to send letters of complaint to the attorneys general in both states, “then we’ll follow up from there.” She said she has handled slightly more than 300 clergy sex abuse cases, with about a dozen still active.
“This isn’t about destroying the Catholic church,” Randles said. “This is about rooting out an evil. It’s as evil in the Catholic church as it is in USA gymnastics, or as it is with any of the colleges that have recently undergone their own issues with regard to sexual abuse. The Catholic church should not be held to a different standard than every other organization that has sexual abuse issues in its midst.”
Fighting back tears, Viviano said Monday that his family was not supportive when he told them of his abuse. His mother told him it wasn’t her fault, he said, and his older brother said that filing a lawsuit would hurt the family’s name.
“He said, ‘Well, it happened a long time ago,’ “ Viviano said. “How often do all of us hear that it happened a long time ago? But it’s today. It’s today that we feel it.
“The pope said we need to stop this culture of death. And it is a death. A part of you does die. Emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. You die on the inside. And that’s something every day I have to live with.”