A letter today from the provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province and list released Thursday confirms that several friars with credible allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1960s had assignments that included Hays and the surrounding area.
The Salina Diocese is scheduled to release its own list of substantiated allegations and accompanying information Friday morning.
In his letter, Father Christopher Popravak, provincial minister of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Conrad, which serves Colorado, Kansas, Texas and several foreign missions, acknowledged one victim was a student at Thomas More Prep-Marian High School. He does not say if the abuse occurred while the student was attending TMP.
“The knowledge has caused me personal grief. I am good friends with one of the victims, a student of mine who I taught at TMP-Marian. It took the individual many years to come forward and let me know what had happened,” he wrote.
Of the 13 friars on the Capuchin’s list, none are in active ministry. Two are deceased and five have left the order, according to the press release. The list does not outline what years the friars were assigned in Kansas, but does include an estimated timeframe of when the alleged abuses occurred.
Five of them are listed as having been removed from the ministry and under supervision and having allegations of sexual abuse against a minor. Those are:
• Felix Shinsky, assigned to St. Fidelis, with an estimated timeframe of abuse in 1977, with one credible allegation of abuse.
• Bennett Colucci, assigned to Puerto Rico, Denver and Thornton, Colo. Estimated timeframe of abuse is in the 1970s and ’80s, with more than one credible allegation.
• Ron Gilardi, whose friary assignments included St. Bonaventure and St. Joseph in Hays, and St. Fidelis. He taught at TMP from 1988 to 1996, and was prosecuted in Ellis County in 2001. He pleaded guilty to three counts of indecent liberties with a child and was sentenced to 32 months in a treatment facility and five years probation.
• David Gottschalk, who was assigned to St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, with an estimated timeframe of abuse in the 1970s with more than one credible allegation.
• Julian Haas, assigned to St. Joseph, with a timeframe of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s and more than one credible allegation.
In addition, Matthew Gross was listed as removed from ministry and under supervision for more than one credible allegation of abuse against a vulnerable adult in the 2000s and 2010s. St. Joseph Friary is among his assignments.
The release of the list followed an independent audit of the province’s personnel files and outside information, the release said.
According to a Frequently Asked Questions file on the Capuchins website, a “credible allegation” means it was determined by those investigating that is more than likely the abuse occurred.
“Credibility is established either through a friar’s own admission or through a criminal or internal administrative investigation. It is equally important to note that a reference to or allegation of sexual abuse does not necessarily mean that sexual abuse did occur,” the FAQ says.
In his letter, Popravak acknowledges the harm the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal has caused to victims.
“Apologies are not enough. In fact, after a point, apologies sound meaningless, unless accompanied by protective measures. Worse still, apologies may have the effect of opening deep wounds of the survivors,” he wrote.
“I myself have tried to accompany victims in their healing process, as have other provincial ministers. We have not always done this well. Some victims were disappointed, even angered by our ineptitude. We need to do better,” he said.
He refers readers to the Capuchins website, where a section titled Protecting Children and Vulnerable Adults contains a press release, his letter, the audit report and the FAQ. Popravak also encourages those who have been abused by Capuchins but have not reported to do so
“We want to work towards reparation of the harm done,” he wrote.
The audit report says the independent team commissioned by the province consisted of Amy Peterson, director of pastoral care and conciliation for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, Dr. James Freiburger, a clinical psychologist, and Dr. James Reynolds a forensic psychologist.
They reviewed personnel files and interviews with those with institutional or historical knowledge about matters related to sexual abuse in the province. Interviewees included Fathers Michael Scully and Charles Polifka.
A total of 226 personnel files were reviewed, according to the report.