Kansas City diocese names priests in ‘the dreadful scourge of sexual abuse of minors’

Saying that “the dreadful scourge of sexual abuse of minors has wounded our entire family of faith,” Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Friday released a list of 24 priests he said have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

“The release of these names cannot change the past,” Johnston said in a statement. “It is merely a step forward in hope, but a necessary step. All sin is terrible, but the sins of clerics who betray the sacred trust to care for little ones is especially egregious. Jesus himself singled out this betrayal as particularly wicked in the eyes of God. The anger at these sins is fully justified.”

Of the 24 priests, 19 were priests of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, three worked in the diocese but are now under the jurisdiction of other dioceses and two served in the diocese but belonged to religious orders. Thirteen of the diocesan priests are deceased, two have been permanently removed from ministry, and four have been laicized, or removed from the clerical state.

One of those who was laicized — Shawn Ratigan — is serving time in federal prison for child pornography.

“With the one significant exception of former Father Shawn Ratigan, the substantiated allegations were found to have occurred prior to 1990,” Johnston said.

Johnston said the list, which covers the period from 1956 to the present, has been shared with the Missouri attorney general. Most of the priests have had multiple allegations.

The other diocesan priests named are James Ahern, Robert Cameron, Robert Deming, James Ford, John Giacopelli, Sylvester Hoppe, Joseph Jakubowski, Francis McGlynn, Thomas O’Brien, John Tulipana, Thomas Ward, Thomas Waterman and Jerry Wegenek, who are all deceased; Michael Brewer and Michael Tierney, who have been permanently removed from ministry; and Hugh Monahan, Thomas Reardon and Stephen Wise, who have been laicized.

The other five with substantiated abuse allegations are:

Three clergy with allegations stemming from their time in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese but who are now under authority of other dioceses and whose names have been published there. Among the three is Bishop Joseph Hart, a former Kansas City priest who later became Bishop of Cheyenne in Wyoming and is now the subject of a criminal investigation into sexual abuse in Cheyenne. The other two are Mark Honhart, of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, permanently removed from ministry; and Bishop Joseph V. Sullivan, of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who is deceased.

Two religious-order priests with substantiated allegations against them when they served in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. They are Philip Coury, of the Vincentian order, and James Urbanic, of the Society of the Precious Blood. Both have been permanently removed from ministry.

The list also included three priests who have served in the diocese and were found by the bishop to be “unsuitable for ministry out of concern for the safety of our youth.” They are Thomas Cronin, a diocesan priest now retired; Stephen Muth, of the Eparchy of Parma, removed from ministry; and Michael Rice, a diocesan priest now retired.

The diocese also listed three clergy who have been named in legal settlements but whose cases have not been substantiated by a civil or church process. They are John Baskett, James Lawbaugh and Brother Earl Johnson.

Four additional priests who have been accused of abuse and served in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese at one point were included. Their names had been previously released by other dioceses in Missouri. They are Eugene Deragowski, Mark Ernstmann and John Rynish of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and John DeAngelis of the Diocese of Jefferson City. All are deceased.

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

Many of the priests on the list have been the subjects of sexual abuse lawsuits filed against the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese over the past two decades. Those lawsuits have resulted in numerous settlements by the diocese, including one for $10 million in 2008 and another for $10 million in 2014.

A national advocacy group said the list released Friday was long overdue but incomplete.

“It’s reckless and callous for Bishop Johnston to have hidden these names for so long, releasing them when it’s convenient for him, instead of immediately when the allegations are made or deemed credible,” said David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“There’s no excuse for hiding a likely predator’s name for any length of time. In fact, every day a known or suspected abuser’s identity is concealed, more kids are needlessly at risk. It’s irresponsible to keep silent about a potentially dangerous child molester — or even a deceased one — and wait to disclose this knowledge in groups or bunches when it suits an employer’s public relations needs.”

Johnston said the list was based on information that was currently available.

“Any new information regarding allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors will be carefully reviewed and evaluated, and if substantiated, the list will be updated accordingly,” he said. “While it is impossible to undo the past, it is possible to act in the present. I renew my apology to any person who has been afflicted by acts of clergy sexual abuse, including family members.”

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph announced in April that it had 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.

Johnston said Friday that the Fidelity team was provided complete, unsupervised access to the diocese’s files.

“Their findings confirmed there are no clerics in active ministry in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph with substantiated allegations of abusing minors,” he said.

Johnston said Fidelity Consultants provided an explanation of the scope of its review to the diocese’s Independent Review Board, which is primarily composed of lay people with expertise in child protection.

“The Independent Review Board, Office of Child and Youth Protection, and diocesan leadership reached consensus on this list of clerics with substantiated allegations and Fidelity personnel concurred that the list produced was consistent with their review,” he said.

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims, said Friday’s release of names was welcome news.

“Any time a perpetrator is exposed to the public so children can be protected, that’s a good step,” Randles said. “But we’ve been exposing these perpetrators through lawsuits since 2003, and there have been others filed before that. The big question is, why did they wait so long?”

The priest sex abuse issue erupted again in August 2018 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 Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Diocese of Jefferson City and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau — have released their own lists of accused priests.

In Kansas, two of the state’s four Catholic dioceses have released names of credibly accused priests.

In January, the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas released the names of 22 priests who it said have had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them in the past 75 years.

“Each name on this list represents a grave human tragedy,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann in a statement published in The Leaven, the archdiocesan newspaper. “Each name represents a betrayal of trust and a violation of the innocent.”

In addition to the 22, the list included four priests whom the archdiocese said have had previously publicized allegations that were not able to be substantiated.

And in March, the Diocese of Salina published the names of 14 diocesan priests who it said have had substantiated allegations of abuse of a minor, 12 of whom have died and two of whom have been removed from the priesthood.

The Wichita and Dodge City dioceses have not issued a list.

In February, the KBI announced it had opened an investigation into reports of sexual abuse in the four Catholic dioceses in Kansas, convening an internal task force of six special agents. The investigation was requested by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to determine if any abuse cases should be prosecuted, the KBI said.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation said in July that it had initiated 74 investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse committed by Catholic clergy members. The investigations, which are underway in 33 of Kansas’ 105 counties, came after the agency received 119 reports from victims, the KBI 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.