Catholic ombudsman announces first year of findings

In her first year of the job, the ombudsman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph handled 79 reports of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior by clergy, lay staff, volunteers and people not affiliated with the diocese.

About a fourth of the cases involved allegations against people working or volunteering in diocesan activities, according to a report released today by Jenifer Valenti, the diocesan ombudsman and public liaison officer who previously worked as a Jackson County assistant prosecutor.

Bishop Robert W. Finn made the appointment in July 2011 as part of a five-point plan that the diocese offered as a response to lawsuits and allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy.

Her two-page report covers July 1, 2011, through June 30.

The 79 complaints involved 72 people, including 20 clergy, 17 lay employees, seven volunteers and five members of “religious orders.”

Valenti said some cases involved allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred before her appointment, including one dating to the 1960s.

“As a mother of young children, my heart was invested in a just outcome for those among us who come forward to report abuse,” Valenti said in her written report to members of the Diocese. “As a lifelong Catholic, I believe that everyone shares in the responsibility to protect children and vulnerable adults.”

Valenti said her office is actively trying to inform church members that they can report allegations of abuse and misconduct.

Signs are posted at every parish throughout the diocese as well as in church bulletins, she said.