by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Friday, Jan. 13, in the late afternoon, then-Attorney General Derek Schmidt released a summary report conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) on Catholic clergy abuse in the state of Kansas.
The investigation was undertaken on Nov. 15, 2018, after my request to Attorney General Schmidt. I had made this request after consultation with the other three Kansas diocesan bishops — Bishop John Brungardt, Dodge City; Bishop Carl Kemme, Wichita; and Bishop Gerald Vincke, Salina.
I am grateful to the attorney general and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for the considerable time and resources they devoted to this investigation. They provided what I hoped for: an objective, thorough examination of the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and the deficiencies of the response by Catholic officials, namely bishops.
Reading the report was painful — but not nearly as painful as the wounds experienced by victims of sexual abuse. I apologize again for the failure of the church to adequately protect children entrusted to our care and for the times where bishops failed to respond with respect and care to the accusations of victims. I take seriously my responsibility to make amends for times when either of these failures occurred.
Priests who sexually abused children and young people acted in a way not only contrary to the most basic human decency, but in complete violation of the teaching of Jesus and the church. It saddens me to no end that priests, whom victims had every right to trust as representatives of the church, took advantage of innocent children and youth. Instead of helping children and youth, they used their position of trust to harm physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually the innocent.
When a child or young person is abused by a member of the clergy, it often has the additional consequence of impeding their ability to trust God and the church, preventing victims from being able to go to the sources where they should be able to turn for comfort, healing and consolation. It also saddens me that victims and their families were not always received by bishops with respect, compassion and an eagerness to help.
At the same time, I am pleased that the report provides evidence that what the church has been doing for the past several decades has been effective in dramatically reducing the instances of abuse by Catholic clergy. Equally important are efforts to improve how victims are received, accompanied and assisted by the church. I hope that the report will empower more victims to come forward to receive help and healing.
The church has made significant strides with the implementation of best practices for the prevention of abuse in our churches, schools and ministries. Every report of abuse is taken seriously and immediately reported to the appropriate law enforcement jurisdiction. The archdiocese uses professional lay investigators to help us ascertain the truth of allegations. In recent years, our investigator was both a former FBI agent and Kansas state trooper.
Our Independent Review Board members — based on their study of the investigator’s report and drawing upon their expertise and backgrounds in law enforcement, psychology, therapeutic care of victims, legal advocacy for victims, the firsthand perspective of a victim of clergy abuse, and a priest — provide me with wise counsel on ascertaining the truth of an allegation and proposing the best assistance the church can provide to the accuser and the accused. I am resolved to do everything possible to bring healing to victims.
Similar to the acknowledgment in the KBI report, I have been edified and inspired by the courage of victims, who are motivated to protect others from being victimized. I am heartened and encouraged by those who, despite the injustice and harm done by a member of the clergy, have a great love for God and many that persevere in living their Catholic faith, enriching our church by their continued participation.
While in my experience many of the allegations of clergy abuse are true, some are not. There are instances, for example, in which the accuser has been abused but has misidentified the perpetrator. According to the church’s law, criminal law, and our own archdiocesan policy and protocols, the accused person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. My commitment is to always pursue, to the best of my ability, the truth wherever it leads.
I will be reviewing more carefully with our vicars general and our office for protection and care the KBI report to discern where we can improve our safe environment policies as well as our care for victims. The report provides us with much opportunity for self-examination and how we can strengthen our current protocols and practices.
The KBI report was a massive undertaking. It confirms the effectiveness of our current policies and protocols, while at the same time providing us with recommendations where we can still improve.
Understandably, the KBI report is not perfect, particularly when it speaks of canon law, taking concepts out of context or offering an inadequate interpretation. It failed to mention or consider canon law that is particular to the United States, as well as current archdiocesan policy that has enhanced our vigilance to protect children and the vulnerable as well as requiring full cooperation with civil law enforcement.
There are also some very serious errors in their description of the function of internal review boards. Most significantly, the report does not make clear what were historic problems and what are the current practices of the church.
The report is a sober reminder of the humanity of the church and the consequences when we fail to live the most fundamental of our moral teachings. The church should not only meet the requirements of civil law, but we must hold ourselves to the higher standards found in the Gospel.
I took particular note that the KBI report on page 11 stated that “a common thread regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy within a particular diocese . . . appears to be directly related to the degree of tolerance allowed by a bishop.” I assure you that I take very seriously my responsibility to provide the leadership to make the safety of our children the highest priority.
I am grateful for the efforts of our office for protection and care and our Independent Review Board in helping me to be vigilant in the protection of our young people and in our response and assistance to victims. We have made great strides, but there is always room for improvement and more that we must do.
I ask for your prayers that I can be ever vigilant in the protection of children and youth and responsive and compassionate with victims. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will give me wisdom and courage in my responsibilities to be a shepherd after the example of Jesus. There is so much good happening every day in the church, but it can all be undermined if we fail in this critical area of protecting from abuse and harm not only children and youth, but all members of the church and society, especially those that are most vulnerable.