Accused child molester is now running a Catholic school
(For Immediate Release August 4, 2023)
A new Catholic school president has been hired in the Kansas City Kansas Archdiocese despite his having been sued as an abuser in Arizona.
Is it possible he's innocent? Yes. Is it likely he's innocent? Doubtful. Has his selection and appointment been handled appropriately? Clearly not.
Phil Baniewicz is the new head of Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park KS. Archbishop Joseph Naumann and his staff have not been honest with parents and the public about the serious allegations against Baniewicz. And tragically, this type of continuing secrecy is what hurts victims, demoralizes Catholics and enables sex crimes against kids to keep happening.
Here's the crux of this troubling situation: A priest and his colleague (Baniewicz) reportedly molested and threatened a boy. Another priest reportedly gave the boy liquor, watched the abuse and threatened him. A lawsuit against all 3 settled for six figures. The two priests were convicted and defrocked. But the Catholic lay person is now in charge of a parochial school, a move that seems reckless to us.
Is the settlement of a civil lawsuit an admission of guilt? Not necessarily. But look at what happened to the two other alleged abusers named in this suit.
One is Fr. Dale Fushek, who started a program called LifeTeen (along with Baniewicz). Fr. Fushek has faced multiple accusers. Several lawsuits against him have been settled. He pled guilty to child sex crimes. And he's not only been defrocked - he's also been ex-communicated.
The other is Fr. Mark Lehman. He was put on leave, criminally charged, and sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for fondling a child. Later he was sentenced to lifetime parole for abusing four more kids. Catholic officials provided financial support to him - both while he was locked up and when he was released in 2002.
So is it likely that the victim was ‘right’ about two men who reportedly molested him but ‘wrong’ about the third? That seems unlikely.
But put aside questions of guilt or innocence for a minute. There’s the issue of how Catholic officials made and communicated this decision. No one can reasonably say they’ve been upfront about Beniewicz’ past.
Whatever became of all those bishops promising over and over to be 'open' about abuse allegations?
At a bare minimum, we call on Naumann to hold open public Q & A sessions with his flock - regardless of whether they have connections to the school or not - and explain why he stays quiet about an accused child molester running a Catholic school.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)