Kansas Priest Previously “Cleared” of Abuse now Listed as a Credible Abuser
"Better late than never" is one cliché that comes to mind when hearing that the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas has reversed itself by admitting a cleric that it previously cleared is actually a credibly accused abuser.
"We told you so" also comes to mind. The context of this cliché – that the church cannot honestly or possibly police itself – has been a concern of advocates for years and is sadly shown to be true with each new story about clergy abuse that comes out.
In this particular case, the red flag was that the accused cleric, Fr. William Haegelin, was laicized in 2004, just two years after the accusation. In the context of the Catholic Church, this kind of timeframe is speedy and sends the message that this cleric’s crimes were severe enough that the institutional church wanted to distance themselves from him as quickly as possible.
The recklessness of letting Fr. Haegelin off the hook in 2002 is that he has been hidden from view and has been a dangerous man to children since his false exoneration. The diocese laicized him and therefore could claim they had no employer's liability for anything he did from 2004 onwards. But morally, the bishops of Kansas City remain complicit, to this day.
Every year priests are "investigated" by internal, handpicked committees of churchgoers and church staffers who almost always lack specific training or education in child protection and abuse prevention. We think two things must happen to counter act this grave and present danger. First, a nationwide policy must be adopted and enforced by the bishops that requires neutral experts investigate any alleged crime that is past the statue of limitations. Of course, any allegations within the statue must be reported immediately to law enforcement.
Second, once accused, the alleged abuser must also be listed on the diocese's website. That is the policy of Bishop-Accountability; if publicly accused, the cleric is listed with whatever explanation is necessary to clarify the church's actions. Church officials can take this step themselves quickly and easily, and such a listing will demonstrate transparency while providing parents with the information they need to consider when decided with whom to trust their children.
Now that Fr. Haegelin is (finally) acknowledged as credibly accused, Archbishop Joseph Naumann must also redouble his efforts at victim outreach. We fear there are dozens more, and we know from research that most recent victims will wait decades to report.
We know that the KBI is investigating clergy abuse cases within Kansas and hope that they will look into this case. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and we can only wonder; who else was let off the hook? Where are they? Who might they have harmed because of the diocese's reckless decision to be judge, jury, enforcer, and enabler?
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)