The Kansas Bureau of Investigation can’t say yet how many reports of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy have been reported in the Salina Diocese, which includes Hays and Ellis County.
Asked how many victims reported so far, a KBI spokeswoman said it’s too soon to tell.
“We are actively receiving calls and emails to our tip line, so this will be an ongoing process for some time,” said KBI Communications Director Melissa Underwood in an emailed reply to The Hays Daily News.
The KBI and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt are encouraging victims to call 1-800-KS-CRIME or email ClergyAbuse@kbi.ks.gov.
That’s the case, even if the crimes occurred many decades ago, said Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees.
“I know there have been other reports made recently that are well outside the statute of limitations,” Drees said. “But there’s every reason for victims of abuse to come forward, there may still be an option for prosecution.”
While there is a statute of limitations for rape and aggravated criminal sodomy, as well as other crimes, Drees said there are certain situations where a case can still be prosecuted.
“The reality is these cases come down to very specific details as to whether a person can or cannot be prosecuted,” Drees said. “There’s plenty of reason for people to come forward. There may be a specific set of circumstances that would allow for a prosecution years later.”
In January the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas released the names of 22 clergy for whom it had substantiated claims of child sexual abuse.
The Salina Diocese has not released any names yet, but Bishop Jerry Vincke says it will.
“Once the list is final, it will be published in a timely manner as well as turned over to the Kansas Attorney General,” said Vincke in a statement published in the Feb. 8 issue of The Register, the official newspaper of the diocese.
The Salina Diocese retained an independent auditor to review all of its clergy files regarding allegations of sexual abuse, Vincke said in his statement.
“The initial review of the files is complete, but several steps must still happen before the list is finalized, including review by the Lay Review Board,” he said.
The Salina Diocese includes 31 counties in northwest and north central Kansas, with more than 46,600 Catholics, according to the diocese.
Within the diocese, Hays has three parishes and a Catholic center on the Fort Hays State University campus led by diocesan priests. Hays has been home since the 1880s to a Catholic school led by Capuchin friars, including a residential program begun in 1910. The school eventually became St. Joseph’s College and Military Academy and in 1931 had 199 boys enrolled, according to a history on the school’s website. The Capuchins started St. Francis Seminary in Victoria in 1948, which provided high school education to 632 men, the history says. St. Francis Seminary closed decades ago, and St. Joseph’s became co-ed TMP-Marian in 1981. Since 2003, TMP-Marian has been governed by the Salina Diocese and led by lay faculty, according to the website history.
Whether there are complaints filed against clergy from the diocese, or from the Capuchins or other religious orders, Underwood said the KBI will investigate.
“Any criminal allegation that comes to us through this process will be reviewed, so yes, this would include any allegation of abuse by those belonging to any religious order,” Underwood said. “If the abuse occurred in Kansas, it will likely be a part of this investigation.”
Even in the hands of KBI investigators, Underwood said law enforcement will need time.
“The process of reviewing church documents and investigating abuse allegations has just begun,” Underwood said. “It will be quite some time before a number of victims, or detailed information of this nature is releasable.”
Ellis County’s Drees recalls prosecuting a few such cases of clergy sexual abuse a decade or so ago in Ellis County.
He said sometimes local law enforcement might be contacted by victims, or they might report the abuse to the church, or the religious entity in authority, such as the Salina Diocese or the Capuchins, in the case of Hays.
One of the Catholic Church’s most high profile child sexual abuse offenders, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, was ordered to withdraw from public life and live at the Capuchin’s St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, which leads the town’s Basilica of St. Fidelis.
A lot of cases are from 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, Drees said. In Kansas, the statute of limitations on sex crimes varies according to when the crime was committed, as Kansas has changed the limitation over the years. Historically it was two years after the crime was committed, then later it became five years, then 10 years. In 2014, the law was changed to unlimited.
But that doesn’t matter, Drees said, any victim should report the crime. For one thing, even if not prosecutable, the church can investigate and take action, ensuring an abuser doesn’t hurt someone else, Drees said.
And, despite the statute of limitations, there are many factors to consider. For example, in the case of a repressed memory being recalled, where a person didn’t understand they were a victim and later realized through counseling they were, the crime may be prosecuted, Drees said. While such cases can be rare, Drees has prosecuted one clergy abuse case under that exception.
There are also other extenuating circumstances under the statute, he said, including if steps were taken to hide the crime, or if threats were made.
“There may be a specific set of circumstances that would allow for a prosecution years later,” Drees said.
Typically prosecution starts with a victim coming forward, then being interviewed by law enforcement. The alleged abuser is then interviewed, and then law enforcement looks for physical and circumstantial evidence to see if the prosecution can build a case,
“But law enforcement can’t do anything unless or until the victim comes forward,” he said. “The biggest thing here is the veil of silence is being lifted. People now have the courage to come forward. There are sets of circumstances that would allow for a prosecution,
even decades later, but it requires investigation of the fact.”
Kansas Attorney General Schmidt is also encouraging victims to call the statewide Victim Assistance Hotline at (800) 828-9745, Monday
through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to discuss what help may be available.
The KBI is accepting reports about alleged sexual abuse by clergy at 1-800-KS-CRIME or ClergyAbuse@kbi.ks.gov.