One priest, 17 victims, 5 suicides
(In memory of James Chevedden, the victim of a suspicious death - which the Jesuits rushed to label a suicide - a few years after an alleged sexual assault by a Jesuit. This happened during the tenure of Fr. Thomas Smolich as head of the California Province.)
"How do you do it? How do you read about and respond to all that pain and corruption and betrayal, day after day?"
When I tell people what I do for a living, I often get some version of this question.
My response is usually: "This work is draining, but it's also a privilege and an honor. It helps me heal. I meet tremendously compassionate and brave people. I get to watch them recover. I see criminals outed, ousted, prosecuted and kept away from kids. There are many rewards.”
And I often tell people that I usually manage, somehow, to see the glass as half full.
But not this time.
Last Friday, a journalist told me that Fr. Robert K. Larson passed away back on Aug. 27. But his Wichita Catholic supervisors kept this information secret until this convicted child molesting cleric was buried.
Fr. Larson's name might sound familiar. He attracted national attention in 2002 when the Boston Globe and Wichita Eagle ran page one reports saying that five of Fr. Larson's alleged victims took their own lives.
Fr. Larson was accused of assaulting 17 kids. So logically, given the devastation he caused, I should have been relieved at the news of his passing. And initially, I was.
I called the mother of one of Fr. Larson's victims, a kind, generous and smart woman named Janet Patterson. She immediately said to me what I've often said when predators die: “At least now, we know he'll never hurt another child.”
But guess how Janet heard about Fr. Larson's death?
From the bishop? Nope.
From a diocesan official? Nope.
From a parish priest? Nope.
From a concerned Catholic? Nope.
From the same journalist who called me.
Is that too much to expect – that a bishop (in this case, Bishop Carl Kemme) might be sensitive enough to call these mothers whose boys were sexually violated by a local priest?
And Kemme kept Fr. Larson's passing secret until the priest was actually buried. He orchestrated it so that Fr. Larson's death would be reported on a Friday, the day when fewer people see the news.
Is it too much to expect that a bishop might promptly be what every bishop repeatedly pledges to be - “open and transparent” about predator priests?
As an aside, I can't help but fear and assume that Fr. Larson was buried with full priestly honors, like an admitted Seattle predator priest, David Jaeger, was recently and a convicted Toledo murderer/priest, Gerald Robinson, was a few months back.
Is it too much to expect that Catholic officials who acted deceptively and hurtfully when predators were exposed might actually behave with a modicum of compassion when those predators pass away?
Ironically, Friday was the birthday of Eric, Janet's son. He would have been 44.
I'll end this by quoting the statement we sent to Wichita media last week.
“The bishop should personally visit every parish where Larson worked and beg his flock to help him find and console every single child who was assaulted by this admitted criminal. We are sure the bishop will issue a statement expressing “sadness.” But that's a public relations move, not a pastoral one. A truly compassionate shepherd would aggressively reach out to those in pain using every means possible, not just a terse, conveniently timed press release.
We urge anyone who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by Larson – or other Wichita clerics, Catholic or Protestant – to get help, seek justice and start healing. No one benefits when victims stay silent.”
We hope Larson's death will provide some comfort to the hundreds who were hurt by his crimes against at least 17 children.
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