Twelve of 14 priests who have been determined to have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse in the Salina Diocese each served in at least one northwest Kansas church during their priesthood.
The diocese Friday morning released its audit report and supporting documents, including a letter from the bishop in which he admits the church has failed victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
The diocesan list includes pastoral assignments of the priests but does not correlate those assignments with the time of alleged abuses.
The timeframe of the allegations ranges from 1902 to 2012, with many of the alleged abuses taking place in the 1960s and 1970s. None of the 14 are active in ministry today, according to a report Friday by The Register, the Salina Diocese newspaper. Twelve are deceased and the remaining two are laicized, or dismissed from the priesthood.
The Register reported Bishop Gerald Vincke retained Cottonwood Law of Hillsboro as independent counsel in September 2018, less than a month after he began serving as bishop. Courtney Boehm, who at the time was Marion County Attorney and is now a judge in the Eighth Judicial District, conducted the audit.
Boehn reviewed 109 files dating back to the late 1800s, the Register reported. After the audit was completed in January, it was turned over to the Kansas attorney general’s office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
The diocesan Lay Review Board discussed the report in February and found 14 cases of substantiated clergy abuse. According to a Frequently Asked Questions file published by the Register, the board was formed in 2000 and includes members who are mental and medical health providers, law enforcement and priests.
A substantiated allegation, the FAQ says, is one corroborated with witness statements, documents, another source such as law enforcement or admission by the accused.
The two priests laicized were:
• Robert Reif, who served at Phillipsburg’s SS Philip and James Catholic Church from 1972 to 1976, according to a June 2010 Lawrence Journal World article. He was accused of sexual abuse of two boys in several cities between 1975 and 1986, according to the article. He also served in Goodland from 1976 to 1979 and at Park in 1980.
According to the diocese document, he was suspended in 1986, sent away for treatment from 1986 to 1987 and granted a leave of absence in 1988. He did not return to the Salina Diocese, but abuse reports against him were also made in 2002 and 2005. He was laicized in 2006.
• Allen Scheer, laicized in 2012 after pleading to a charge of misdemeanor battery against a vulnerable adult male in Saline County District Court, had pastoral assignments in Smith Center, Phillipsburg and Logan.
In his letter, the bishop acknowledges that over the years, mistakes were made, and he cited specific cases, two of which involved other priests assigned to northwest Kansas churches.
“There have been times in the past when the Church failed to address the needs of the people who are victims in favor of protecting the reputation of the priest. I am sorry for any time in the past when the Church attempted to solve the issues on their own instead of informing the proper law enforcement of an allegation,” Vinke wrote.
In 2002, an allegation of abuse of a minor was made against Father Roger Hough, which was investigated by the diocesan Lay Review Board and law enforcement, Vincke said.
“The Lay Review Board recommended that Father Hough be removed from active ministry and placed under restrictions. This recommendation was not acted on until 2005,” he wrote.
Hough, who died March 4, 2018, at 82, was removed from ministry in 2005 and ordered by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome to live a life of prayer and penance, according to the diocese.
His pastoral assignments include parishes in Stockton, Grainfield, Selden, Osborne and Downs.
Vincke also mentions Father John Walsh, who is listed as serving in 11 northwest Kansas parishes. An allegation reported in 2002 was alleged to have taken place between 1972 and 1978.
“Father Walsh was allowed to retire, apparently without restrictions,” Vincke wrote.
Walsh died on Christmas Eve 2009 in Hoxie and is buried in St. Francis Catholic Cemetery in Hoxie. According to an obituary posted on the website Find a Grave, his funeral Mass was celebrated by Paul Coakley, then bishop of the Salina Diocese.
Walsh served at St. Francis Cabrinie Catholic Church in Hoxie as well as parishes in Seguin, Damar, Sharon Springs, Stockton, Claudell, Park, Grainfield, Norton and New Almelo.
The Register also published Friday several reflections on the issue of clergy abuse, including one written by Ellis County native Father Joshua Werth, who joined the seminary in 2004 and was ordained in 2009. He is pastor at churches in Ellsworth and Kanopolis and chaplain at Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
In his reflection, Werth writes of the flurry of news reports in 2002 about sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and the reaction to his decision to enter the seminary.
“Former girlfriends said I must be homosexual, friends told me that there are other ways to serve God, strangers said I must be a molester,” he wrote.
Werth admits that while a seminarian, a priest from another diocese made a pass at him. He reported the incident, but said he felt guilty when he saw the priest a year later.
The priest told Werth he had “ruined his priesthood, that many unjust things had happened to him because of what I reported,” he said.
But Werth learned from his own pastor that priest had been out of the priesthood several times before.
“I wasn’t carrying this secret all by myself, but someone knew and believed me. That’s why it’s so important these names be published,” Werth wrote.
The diocesan FAQ says if new allegations are made and substantiated against clergy, the names will be published in the Register and added to the list on its website.
Further allegations of abuse should be reported to the Kansas Protection Report Center (1-800-922-5330), the KBI Crime Hotline (1-800-KSCRIME) or ClergyAbuse@kbi.ks.gov.
The diocese also provides means of reporting abuse at a hotline, (785) 825-0865, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and online at www.salinadiocese.org/safety-security