KBI investigation of alleged Catholic clergy abuse in Kansas approaches four-year milestone

Agents so far authorized 74 cases in more than 30 Kansas counties

By: - December 21, 2022 2:19 pm
Kansas Bureau of Investigation director Kirk Thompson, center, said the ongoing inquiry into alleged abuse by Catholic clergy in Kansas prompted opening of 74 cases in 33 counties since initiated in February 2019. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Bureau of Investigation director Kirk Thompson, center, said the ongoing inquiry into alleged abuse by Catholic clergy in Kansas prompted opening of 74 cases in 33 counties since initiated in February 2019. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Susan Leighnor expressed frustration on Wednesday state law enforcement agencies had yet to release findings of an investigation launched nearly four years ago by the attorney general into alleged sexual misconduct by members of the Catholic clergy in Kansas.

Leighnor, who said she was abused as a child by two Catholic priests, said she had spoken to Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents regarding her memories of what transpired at the rectory and school at Church of the Holy Cross in Hutchinson. She also has testified before the Kansas and Colorado legislatures on her experiences.

In an interview, she said a Catholic priest warned her as a child disclosing the abuse would condemn her to hell because the situation was like a person talking to a priest at confession. Confession in the Catholic church is a sacrament in which the penitent seek forgiveness for offenses against God and others.

Leighnor said she was worried political calculations or religious loyalties would interfere with the inquiry. She said it was troubling Attorney General Derek Schmidt and KBI director Kirk Thompson were leaving those jobs in early January with an inconclusive investigation.

She said information collected by KBI agents ought to be publicly disclosed, but a Kansas senator said it was likely findings of the probe would emerge in redacted form.

“I demand accountability. They’re protecting the Catholic church,” said Leighnor, who lives in Colorado. “I am heartbroken by the cruelty and indifference shown by the state of Kansas.”

On Wednesday, the KBI released an update on work of the task force that has been investigating allegations of clergy misconduct since February 2019.

“The investigation is ongoing,” the KBI statement said. “The task force expects the investigation to be lengthy.”

Schmidt requested the KBI initiate the investigation in November 2018. The KBI announced three months later it was interested in talking to people who were victimized by anyone associated with the four Catholic dioceses of Kansas. That could include members of the clergy, church employees, church volunteers or others in positions of authority within a Catholic church, the KBI said.

The KBI said it received 119 reports from individuals alleging sexual abuse by clergy members. The KBI authorized 74 investigations in 33 Kansas counties. In 2021, however, a KBI official told state legislators the investigation had produced 215 abuse reports and triggered 122 cases.

The state law enforcement agency, which is under control of the attorney general, said task force members would work with prosecutors and law enforcement officers to determine if sexual abuse incidents should be considered for prosecution. On Jan. 9, Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach is to be sworn into office. He’s nominated former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi to serve as KBI director.

Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, said she had spoken to the KBI director and was informed it was his intent to release a report on the task force’s investigation. She believes the report would redact personally identifiable information about Catholic clergy subject to allegations.

“I’m a little concerned that what we’re going to get here is not a lot of information,” Holscher said.

She intends to introduce in January a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes in terms of civil cases. She proposed a comparable bill prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was disappointed the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t take up the measure during the 2022 session.

Holscher said Kansas law ought to be amended so claims for damages suffered because of childhood sexual abuse occurring after July 1984 could be revived. The statute also could be changed to eliminate a requirement that claimants carry the burden of providing evidence of injury from abuse.

In Kansas, the Catholic church maintains diocese in Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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