SNAP Disappointed that Kansas City Bishop Appointed as Head of Committee on Child Protection

We are deeply disappointed that the head of the Kansas City, Missouri diocese has won his bid to head a national panel on child sexual abuse. This choice will almost certainly maintain the troubling status quo and do little or nothing to stop abuse or cover ups.

At the annual meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop James Johnston of Kansas City beat Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City for the chairmanship of the Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People. SNAP had backed McKnight for the position.

Bishop McKnight hasn’t been a bishop long and has been both criticized and praised by our organization. But Bishop Johnston did a poor job in Springfield MO initially and is doing a poor job in Kansas City currently.

Bishop McKnight released a list of accused abusive clerics almost a year before his colleague in Kansas City did. And Bishop Johnston has so far done virtually nothing to undo the damage done by his predecessor, Bishop Joseph Hart, who actively protected clergy who abused children. Similarly, Bishop Johnston has not done anything above the legally required bare minimum, to safeguard kids.

In July, we asked Johnston to ‘further restrict’ the ministries and activities of former KC Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted of concealing abuse, and former KC priest Fr. Joseph Hart, who was promoted to bishop and is accused of molesting at least eight kids.

In January, we asked Johnston to add four names of credibly accused child molesting clerics to his list of such priests.

In 2015, we asked Johnston to “stop using hardball legal tactics” in abuse cases. In that same year, we also asked Johnston to warn the public about two accused abusive priests who have moved or been sent out of state.

Earlier, in 2011, we asked Johnston to warn his Springfield flock about one of Kansas City’s most prolific predator priests, Msgr. Thomas O’Brien, who was also in Springfield.

As best we can tell, Johnston took none of these steps.

Conversely, Bishop McKnight has taken several important steps to help prevent future cases of abuse and to help current survivors heal.

Bishop McKnight Held a news conference to disclose that a credibly accused Pennsylvania predator priest, Fr. John A. Pender, had worked in his diocese

He also read a statement at a parish urging victims of convicted molester Fr. Fred Lenczycki to come forward, even though the priest only lived at a local rectory and apparently never had permission to work in the diocese.

Bishop McKnight publicly acknowledged that another out-of-state predator, Fr. Kenneth J. Roberts, lived in his diocese, even though Roberts was also not given permission to work here.

And he took a step beyond most bishops when publishing names of accused priests by including men who belonged to religious orders.

He has also pledged to accept no more religious order clergy into his diocese unless their supervisors had listed proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics on their websites, and showed transparency when he revealed how much his diocese spent on this crisis: $4.7 million since 2003 and roughly $2.3 million in the years prior to that.

Hopefully now that Bishop Johnston is in charge of this important post, he will reverse his previous stances, take steps that survivors and advocates have been asking about for years, and will work towards openness and transparency instead of secrecy.

CONTACT: David Clohessy, SNAP Missouri (davidgclohessy@gmail.com, 314-566-9790), Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(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)


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