Missouri attorney general refers 12 Catholic ex-clergy for sex abuse prosecution

After investigating Missouri Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Friday that he has referred 12 former clergy members for possible criminal prosecution.

Schmitt released a 329-page report detailing his office’s year-long investigation that included interviews with victims and a review of personnel records dating back to 1945 of more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women.

The attorney general’s office found 163 clergy members who had been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct of minors.

Of the 163, one case is currently under investigation by the church and five cases already were being investigated by local prosecutors. Sixteen cases had been referred for criminal prosecution in the past.

Eighty-three of the clergy members are dead. Forty-six of the remaining cases have fallen outside of Missouri’s statute of limitations for prosecution.

The remaining 12 cases are the most referrals for prosecution made by an attorney general since states began widespread investigations of Catholic dioceses, Schmitt’s office said Friday.

Clergy placed in Missouri by religious orders affiliated with the Catholic Church, such as Jesuits or Dominicans, were not investigated because the attorney general’s office was not given access to their personnel records. The report listed recommendations for the Catholic Church to follow, including assuming greater oversight and responsibility for visiting priests.

Schmitt thanked the victims who “had the courage to come forward and share their stories.”

“You didn’t deserve this. None of this was your fault,” he said. “This report, our referrals for criminal prosecution, our aggressive and substantive recommendations for reform can’t erase the past. But they can change the trajectory of the future. It can lead to people being brought to justice, and hopefully make sure that this never happens again.”

Victims and their advocates were pleased to hear that priests had been referred for possible prosecution, but some expressed frustration that they had not been contacted as part of the investigation.

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney, has represented hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims.

“Our clients appreciate the Missouri Attorney General referring cases for prosecution,” she said. “God knows they have waited long enough.

“However, they would have liked to have been part of the process. They are going to feel disregarded and abused all over again. The weight of carrying the burden of victimization of sexual abuse is always compounded by not being heard, minimized and marginalized.”

Randles said that after talking with the attorney general’s investigators last week, her office had reached out to many of its hundreds of clients to prepare them for interviews.

“Those have not occurred,” she said. “We also offered to provide the AG with all information that was not under protective order from our more than 25 years of investigating claims.”

While her office stands ready to assist local prosecutors if they do prosecute any of the priests who were referred, Randles said, “We again ask the Missouri AG to dig deeper.”

Investigators met with everyone who contacted the attorney general’s office, according to its spokesperson, Chris Nuelle.

“The hotline will stay open, and we still welcome survivors to step forward,” Nuelle said.

Randles said the number of accused priests in Missouri her office has compiled tops 200. She noted that several cardinals and bishops who have been accused of sexual abuse or failing to report it have ties to Missouri, including the late Cardinal Bernard Law, Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop Robert Finn, Bishop Joseph Hart and Bishop John J. Sullivan.

“Our list of rogues and scoundrels at the highest echelons is hardly matched by any other jurisdiction,” she said. “There are still more out there who can still pose a danger to children.”

The actions detailed in the attorney general’s investigation are overwhelmingly of misconduct occurring before 2002. The document released Friday said that “given the nature of memory repression in victims, reports of abuse are frequently received decades after the abuse occurred.”

“It should also be noted that since 2002, the church has, on occasion, failed to meet even its own internal procedures on abuse reporting and reporting to law enforcement,” it said.

The most notable example of that failure, the report said, is the prosecution of Bishop Finn, the former head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph who was charged in 2011 with failing to report possession of child pornography and other misconduct by Shawn Ratigan, a priest in the diocese. Finn pleaded guilty in 2012 and resigned in 2015.

“The Finn case is one example of the continued resistance of church leadership to follow internal procedures on reporting suspected abusers and engage civil authorities when misconduct is discovered,” the report said.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said in a statement Friday that it was grateful to Schmitt and his office “for conducting an investigation of the scourge of clerical sexual abuse of minors in the four dioceses of Missouri.”

“We hope, that along with the release of our own list of clerics with substantiated allegations of abuse of minors, his report will lift some of the darkness and bring some sense of justice and healing to victims of clerical sexual abuse,” the diocese said.

The report did not give the names of the 163 priests accused of sexual abuse, nor details of where and when they were assigned.

“We could not release that information to comply with state and federal law,” Nuelle said.

While the attorney general’s report does not name the perpetrators, the Kansas City diocese said it believes that one of the 12 priests being referred for local prosecution is Hugh Monahan, a former priest of the diocese.

“Monahan was the subject of several claims which were settled by the diocese and he is on our list of clerics with substantiated allegations of abuse of minors,” the diocese said. “Monahan left his parish and disappeared in 1989 before any allegations were made against him. Previous efforts by the diocese and investigators to locate him have been unsuccessful. Following the Attorney General’s press conference this morning, our diocesan attorney immediately contacted the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office pledging our continued support in seeking justice for Monahan’s victims.”

The diocese said it would seriously consider the attorney general’s recommendations and “strive to implement any proposal that can strengthen our existing protocols.”

The priest sex abuse issue exploded in August 2018 when a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report finding that church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades. More than 1,000 child victims were identifiable from the internal church documents the grand jury examined, the report said.

The report contained horrific details of some of the abuse and prompted calls for change from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Shortly after the report was issued, 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.

“We intend to gather extensive evidence from the church, as well as from victims and their families and other persons who are not associated with the archdiocese,” Hawley said at the time.

Hawley 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 Schmitt, his successor, continued the investigation.

As a father of young children and a lifelong Catholic, Schmitt said Friday, “my heart absolutely breaks for the victims of this widespread abuse and cover-up from the very people we’ve entrusted with our spiritual lives.

“While the church instituted a number of meaningful reforms in 2002, that does not in any way diminish the pain of the abuse, the traumatic memories, the depression — in some cases, suicide — and other lifelong impacts of the acts of some members of the clergy and the actions of the church to cover it up. The betrayal of trust and of innocence is devastating, and in many instances, incomprehensible.”

As Schmitt’s investigation continued, the state’s four dioceses released their own lists of accused priests. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph last week named 24 credibly accused priests; the Archdiocese of St. Louis has identified 63 credibly accused priests plus three with substantiated allegations of child pornography; the Diocese of Jefferson City named 35 priests or religious brothers who have been credibly accused or removed from ministry out of concern for the safety of youth; and the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau named 16 who have been accused.

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.

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

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

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.
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.