Kansas Catholic clergy sexual abuse investigation targets 14 suspects; prosecutions unlikely

Attorney general releases summary of four-year inquiry on last full day on job

By: - January 6, 2023 6:34 pm
Attorney General Derek Schmidt, on his final full day in office, released a summary of the four-year sexual abuse investigation of Catholic clergy by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Thirty cases were referred to county prosecutors, but the statute of limitations could result in few or no charges against clergy. (Getty Images)

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, on his final full day in office, released a summary of the four-year sexual abuse investigation of Catholic clergy by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Thirty cases were referred to county prosecutors, but the statute of limitations could result in few or no charges against clergy. (Getty Images)

TOPEKA — The Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s four-year inquiry into alleged child sexual abuse in four Catholic dioceses and a breakaway Catholic sect in the state resulted in referral of 30 cases to county prosecutors targeting 14 members of the clergy, state officials said Friday.

An executive summary of the KBI report said no prosecutor had charged any priests named in KBI affidavits with sexual crimes. It’s unlikely the cases would result in charges against alleged abusers because Kansas eliminated the statute of limitations on certain sex crimes in 2013, but didn’t make the statute retroactive.

Historical crimes of rape, indecent liberties with a child or criminal sodomy, like most of the clergy allegations investigated by the KBI, were tied to the statute of limitations at the time of the crime. In most instances, the statute of limitations was set at five years.

“The significance of this is that, absent some other factor or exception to the statute of limitations to consider, the legally allowed time to file criminal charges for most Catholic clergy sexual abuse crimes has passed,” a summary of the KBI inquiry said.

The executive summary said “one reason stated by all prosecutors” who declined to file charges was related to expiration of the statute of limitations. Other reasons were lack of victim cooperation, death of the offending priest, medical issues of the offending priest or insufficient corroborative evidence of crime, the report said.

Other challenges for investigators, according to the KBI: Church officials frequently used language or terms that minimized seriousness or severity of abuse by clergy, inadequate recordkeeping within the dioceses resulting in deletion of records related to abuse allegations and internal investigations by dioceses into past allegations were “inconsistent and inadequate.” The KBI said each of the dioceses failed to follow their own policies and procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse. In some instances, the report said, offending priests were transferred to new parishes or continued to receive financial support from the church.

The KBI summary said some of the 14 clergy referred to prosecutors were associated with multiple counts of sexual abuse or offenses that transpired in different jurisdictions. The KBI report covered a period stretching from 1950 to 2022.

In addition, the KBI report said, the investigation of criminal allegations within a break-off sect of the Catholic Church, the Society of St. Pius X in St. Marys, would continue in Kansas. Members of St. Pius X leadership were previously excommunicated by the Pope.

In November 2018, Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked the KBI to launch an investigation following release of internal files and documents by the Catholic dioceses in Kansas regarding allegations of sexual abuse.

The inquiry led the KBI task force to more than 41,000 pages of documents and creation of the 21-page summary submitted by KBI director Kirk Thompson to the attorney general.

Schmidt, a Republican who lost the 2022 campaign for governor, issued a three-paragraph news release and a copy of the executive summary after 5 p.m. Friday. Schmidt didn’t include a statement characterizing his view on findings of the KBI’s work. His term as attorney general ends at noon Monday. Thompson is scheduled to retire Tuesday.

Thompson’s cover letter to Schmidt said the KBI task force reviewed 224 tips, interviewed 137 people alleging they were victims of abuse, initiated 125 criminal cases and distributed the 30 charging affidavits to Kansas prosecutors and to one jurisdiction in Oklahoma. The summary didn’t include personally identifiable information about alleged abusers nor those who made claims against Catholic leadership.

The KBI director said the inquiry identified 188 clergy “suspected of committing various criminal acts,” including aggravated criminal sodomy, rape, aggravated indecent liberties with a child and aggravated sexual battery.

“It should not go without saying that the abuses revealed during the investigation had a profound effect on the victims, the families of the victims and our task force members,” Thompson said. “Those victims, whose lives have been traumatically affected by what happened to them as a child, have shown hope, strength and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity.”

In Kansas, the Catholic church maintains diocese in Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas. All four Kansas dioceses had accusations of sexual abuse, the executive summary said.

“Each of the dioceses participated in deceptive practices regarding sexual abuse violations to some degree,” the KBI report said. “Credible evidence suggests a number of diocesan officials, including bishops, conspired to cover up sexual abuse allegations. Historically, these allegations were rarely reported to law enforcement by the church.”

The KBI indicated a common thread regarding prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy within a diocese “appears to be directly related to the degree of tolerance allowed by the bishop.”

“Some bishops handled the allegations appropriately, but many others facilitated further abuse of minors by concealing the crimes or reassigning the priest to a new parish,” the summary said.

The report said there were a number of suicides in the four Kansas dioceses that were attributed by family members to sexual abuse of members of the Catholic clergy. From 1960 to the present, the summary said, “at least 15 victims of clergy sexual abuse committed suicide.”

In addition, the summary indicated KBI agents went to a Colorado ranch operated by the Capuchin Province, a Catholic order that operates in Kansas. The report said multiple offender priests lived there. KBI agents were informed by staff the priests wouldn’t meet with them.

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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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