Crime

Kansas agency starts 74 investigations into clergy sexual abuse in 33 counties

‘You die on the inside’ — Abuse victims ask for Kansas, Missouri to open grand jury investigations

Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles and four victims of abuse made a plea for Kansas and Missouri to open grand-jury style investigations similar to the one conducted of Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
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Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles and four victims of abuse made a plea for Kansas and Missouri to open grand-jury style investigations similar to the one conducted of Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

The criminal investigative arm of the state of Kansas has initiated 74 investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse committed by Catholic clergy members.

The investigations come after the state agency received more than 100 reports from victims and are underway in 33 of Kansas’ 105 counties, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said Tuesday.

Asking victims to report abuse, the KBI in February 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 state’s attorney general, Derek Schmidt, requested the investigation, which will determine if any abuse cases should be prosecuted, the KBI said. As of Tuesday, no charges had been filed, KBI spokesperson Melissa Underwood said.

Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who guessed she has represented 400 to 500 victims of clergy sexual abuse, called the news “absolutely incredible.” She was pleased there could be “a reckoning for what’s happened to these people.”

Asked if she hoped charges would be filed, Randles said: “I’m praying.”

Since launching the investigation, the KBI received 119 reports from victims of alleged clergy abuse, according to a statement Tuesday. The task force, the agency noted, expected the investigation to be lengthy.

The agency asked anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse committed by a clergy member, or knows someone who has been abused, to contact the KBI by calling 1-800-KS-CRIME or by sending an email to ClergyAbuse@kbi.ks.gov.

It asked victims to report any abuse, “no matter how long ago they occurred, and even if they were previously reported to law enforcement, or the church.”

The KBI’s announcement came less than two weeks after the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas released the names of 22 priests in its files who had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them in the past 75 years.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocate group, has said the archdiocese failed to include six priests, whose allegations arose elsewhere, on its list of those credibly accused.

The archdiocese said the six priests “were not priests of the archdiocese” but acknowledged that some had served in parishes in the archdiocese.

In a statement Tuesday, the survivors network called the KBI update a great step forward for parishioners and Kansans, commending the agency for its transparency. The update, the group said, showed “that when people speak up, the authorities will listen.”

“We hope this news encourages other survivors — both in Kansas and throughout the country — to come forward and make a report to police and prosecutors,” the advocacy group said.

Underwood, KBI’s spokesperson, said 74 investigations does not necessarily mean 74 clergy members are the target of an inquiry. It’s possible some of the reports accuse the same clergy member, she said.

The KBI declined to say how many current clergy members are the targets of investigations.

Randles represented one of the plaintiffs who sued the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which settled 30 lawsuits alleging abuse by diocesan priests. The legal claims were settled in October 2014 when the diocese agreed to pay nearly $10 million.

Randles has estimated there have been more than 230 sexually abusive priests in Kansas and Missouri.

She said the 74 investigations were more than she would have expected, describing the statute of limitations in Kansas as difficult and narrow in child sexual abuse cases. She said the victims coming forward were heroes.

“Every obstacle stands in their way, but they still do it,” Randles said. “My hats are off to those who were victimized by priests, that are trying to create a society where that kind of abuse does not happen again.”

Kansas’ four Catholic dioceses are the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and the dioceses of Wichita, Salina and Dodge City.

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 KBI also will investigative or refer allegations against members or employees of other denominations and religions, Underwood said. Investigators were assigned to investigate Catholic clergy abuse, however, so it’s the task force’s primary focus, she said.

The Missouri Attorney General’s office is also investigating clergy sex abuse.

In August, then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said his office was conducting an investigation into potential clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He encouraged other dioceses in the state to allow similar investigations, and Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese pledged to cooperate.

The KBI asked Spanish-speaking victims of sexual abuse by clergy members to reach out using the same phone number and email address. It wrote in a news release: “Si llama al 1-800-572-7463, pero no habla inglés, por favor permanezca en la línea hasta que se pueda contactar a un intérprete para assistir.”

If callers do not speak English, the agency said, the caller should remain on the phone until an interpreter can be contacted.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.
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