KC-St. Joseph Diocese hires ex-FBI agents to compile list of credibly accused priests

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has hired an investigative and consulting firm run by three former FBI agents to compile a list of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The St.-Louis based firm, Fidelity Consultants, comprises three investigators who each spent more than two decades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before founding the company, according to an announcement this week in The Catholic Key, the diocesan newspaper.

The action comes after more than half the dioceses across the country — including the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas — and some religious orders have released lists in recent months of priests with substantiated abuse allegations.

“It is my desire to do so as well,” Bishop James V. Johnston wrote in his column in The Catholic Key this week. “This process, by its very nature, is painstakingly deliberate. I intend for an eventual report to be thorough, accurate, and as complete as possible.

“Like most other dioceses, the review is being accomplished by a highly respected and independent third party. It is my hope that our review will be complete and a list available in the coming months.”

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr.
Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph File photo by Rich Sugg rsugg@kcstar.com

The diocese said the firm would conduct “a thorough review of diocesan files” then write a report that includes the names of priests who have served in the diocese and have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.

The priest sex abuse issue erupted last August when a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report finding that church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by hundreds of priests over seven decades. Since then, bishops across the country have been under pressure to release the names of their credibly accused priests.

Shortly after the Pennsylvania report came out, then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced that his office was conducting a “thorough and robust investigation” of potential clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He said his office had full cooperation from St. Louis church officials, and he encouraged the state’s three other dioceses to allow similar investigations. Those dioceses, including Kansas City-St. Joseph, quickly pledged their cooperation as well.

Hawley was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, and his successor, Eric Schmitt, is continuing the investigation. But some sex abuse victims and their advocates say the office isn’t doing enough to complete it.

In the meantime, the Diocese of Jefferson City and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau have released their own lists of priests with substantiated allegations. The Archdiocese of St. Louis said in February that it is working with a team led by a former FBI agent who is reviewing records to create a list of credibly accused clerics.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said it continues to cooperate with the attorney general’s investigation of Missouri dioceses.

“Should a list be released by the diocese as a result of Fidelity’s investigation prior to the completion of the State Attorney General’s investigation, any additional credible accusations uncovered will be added to the list,” the diocese said. “Likewise, if clerics are identified and judged to be credibly accused, these names will be added to the list.”

Also this week, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas announced that it has hired Jenifer Valenti as its new director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

For the past eight years, Valenti has been the independent ombudsman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

Jenifer Valenti is the new director of the office of child and youth protection for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Lori Wood Habiger The Leaven

Valenti starts her new job April 29. Her responsibilities will include overseeing the archdiocese’s safe environment program and staff, responding to abuse reports and ensuring compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

“Being Catholic is a part of who I am,” Valenti told The Leaven, the archdiocesan newspaper. “I feel very strongly and passionately about how the church should be handling sexual abuse of a minor and how that crisis should be resolved.”

Valenti said she looked forward to her new role.

“My goal is to help continue to bring credibility and trust to the people in responding to this crisis,” she said, “but also to bring a sense of security and safety to our vulnerable and the youth in the church. I am really excited about that challenge.”

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann worked with Valenti in 2015 while serving as administrator for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese as it was searching for a new bishop.

“I could see how conscientious she was about her work, how insightful she was, in the recommendations she brought to me when I was the administrator,” Naumann told The Leaven. “She is a woman who is highly respected and trusted within the Kansas City community. And perhaps most important, she has a great love for the church and really wants to make the church the safest place in the world for young people to be.”

Valenti will replace the Rev. John Riley, who has held the position for 10 years and also serves as chancellor of the archdiocese.

Valenti, a former assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson County, was named the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese’s ombudsman in 2011 in the aftermath of the child pornography case involving former priest Shawn Ratigan. Then-Bishop Robert Finn was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse and resigned in 2015. Valenti’s job was to investigate accusations of child sexual abuse and boundary violations against priests or other employees or volunteers in the diocese and to independently report cases to civil authorities without having to seek approval from church officials.

When she was hired, Valenti was the first independent ombudsman in a U.S. diocese, according to the Catholic Key.

Valenti’s last day as ombudsman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will be April 26. She remains an active parishioner in the diocese, the Catholic Key said.

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Judy L. Thomas joined The Star in 1995 and is a member of the investigative team, focusing on watchdog journalism. Over three decades, the Kansas native has covered domestic terrorism, extremist groups and clergy sex abuse. Her stories on Kansas secrecy and religion have been nationally recognized.