Bishop Sullivan Center should be renamed, priest victims’ advocacy group says

David Clohessy, former head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, last year called on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to give then-Attorney General Josh Hawley subpoena power in his investigation into possible clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
David Clohessy, former head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, last year called on Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to give then-Attorney General Josh Hawley subpoena power in his investigation into possible clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. jhancock@kcstar.com

A victims’ advocacy group on Friday called on the Bishop Sullivan Center to change its name, saying it honors a bishop who oversaw the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese during a period when most priest sex abuse cases occurred.

“Honoring wrongdoers makes already-suffering abuse victims suffer more, and that makes them less apt to speak up in the future, thus endangering more kids,” said David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“It also makes witnesses and whistleblowers more apt to stay silent. ‘Why stick my neck out,’ they ask themselves, ‘when even those who are clearly guilty are still held out as model clerics by the church hierarchy?’”

The Bishop Sullivan Center indicated Friday that it had no plans to take any action.

“We are not aware of any misconduct by Bishop Sullivan,” said director Tom Turner in an email to The Star. “On the contrary, we knew him as a man committed to helping people in poverty, which was why the center was named after him. Many people we help are victims of abuse, so we are sympathetic to that pain.”

Bishop John J. Sullivan was head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph from 1977 to 1993. He died in 2001 at 80.

In an email to The Star, the diocese said that the Bishop Sullivan Center “is an independent charity in Kansas City which serves the poor.”

“It is important to remember that victims of child sexual abuse often do not report their abuse for many years, even decades,” the diocese said. “Most of the abuse that occurred during Bishop Sullivan’s tenure was not reported until long after his service. Bishop Sullivan was never, himself, accused of abuse.”

SNAP said the organization realizes that the Bishop Sullivan Center is a separate entity from the diocese and has a separate board of directors. However, it said, “Catholic officials are not powerless to object to the name.”

“If a non-profit pro-abortion group wanted to call itself ‘The Bishop James Johnston Center,’ the diocese would certainly express opposition,” SNAP said. “Or, if a parish or pastor set up a ‘Gloria Steinem Scholarship Fund,’ again, the bishop would holler loudly.”

And while Johnston, the leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, has no direct authority over an institution, SNAP said, “He has a powerful bully pulpit and dozens of parish websites.”

“He could publicly and powerfully call on the center and the parish to show some sensitivity and re-name these or other programs, buildings or entities named after child molesting clerics,” SNAP said.

At a news conference Friday outside the diocesan chancery, SNAP also said it would call on Johnston to immediately release the names of all priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese who have been credibly accused.

“Nearly 100 U.S. bishops have revealed (or pledged to reveal) names of clerics where the allegations against them have been found to be ‘credible’ or ‘substantiated,’” SNAP said. “Johnston claims he wants to wait until a probe by Missouri’s attorney general is finished.”

Waiting, SNAP said, is irresponsible: “Every day a single predator is hidden, kids are at risk.”

The diocese said it continues “to actively cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation of Missouri dioceses.”

“It is hoped that the Attorney General’s review will result in as thorough a list of historical abuse as possible,” the diocese said in a statement to The Star. “Our priority is to rigorously comply with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in order to make sure all children are safe from the evil of abuse. We are confident that there is no priest currently in ministry in Kansas City who has been accused of child sexual abuse.”

SNAP also on Friday released the names of four credibly accused priests who had worked in the Kansas City area but had escaped public scrutiny here. Three, who are now deceased, were recently named by the Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. The fourth, who is still an active priest, was identified when Bishop Shawn McKnight of the Diocese of Jefferson City released the list of names of 35 clerics credibly accused in that diocese following an internal investigation.

“KC church officials have a duty to tell parents and the public these four potentially dangerous clerics were in the area, and aggressively reach out to anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes by them,” SNAP said.

Those with ties to Kansas City who were recently listed as credibly accused by the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese: Msgr. John J. Rynish, who worked at Holy Cross Parish and St. Stephen Parish in Kansas City, died in 2001. The Rev. Eugene Deragowski, who worked at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, died in 1981. The Rev. Mark C. Ernstmann, who attended Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo., and later headed a seminary for 15 years, died in 2013.

The Rev. Deusdedit Mulokozi, also known as “Father Deo,” was accused of misconduct in Sedalia and expelled from the Jefferson City Diocese. A priest with the Society of the Precious Blood religious order, he is now working in a church in Africa, according to his LinkedIn page. In 2014, he was listed as being assigned to the Kansas City Province of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood.