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Kansas City Attorney Calls For Priest Sex Abuse Investigations In Kansas And Missouri

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Four survivors of alleged sexual abuse in the Catholic Church joined attorney Rebecca Randles Monday to share their experiences.

A Kansas City attorney and abuse victims are calling on the attorneys general of Kansas and Missouri to launch investigations into clergy sexual abuse, similar to the grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania.

Attorney Rebecca Randles said she has hundreds of clients who allege they’ve been abused by a member of the Catholic Church.

It wasn’t until the grand jury report was released, revealing more than 1,000 young people had been abused by priests in Pennsylvania, that she took a step back to consider the breadth of the issue.

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of what’s happening here, to people in Kansas City. It’s astounding,” Randles said.

That's why she is calling for statewide investigations into the alleged abuse, which she said — according the Archdiocese of St. Louis and a website documenting investigations filed — involves more than 200 current and former priests in Missouri and the Archdiocese of Kansas in Kansas City, Kansas.

Among those hundreds, thirty-six priests from the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in Missouri have faced public allegations.

Tom Viviano said he was sexually abused as a child by a priest in St. Louis over the course of five years in the 1960s. When he filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 2016,  his family advised against it. He said they told him not to damage the family's name and asked him why he wasn't over it yet, since so much time had passed.

"It's today that we feel it," Vivano said, through tears. 

He said he takes issue with the statute of limitations, especially when it comes to cases of sexual abuse.

"Why does the advantage go to those who created the problem in the first place? I know many who have bene abused who are terrified to come forward, because of the abuse that continues," Viviano said.

Jack Smith, director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, released  a written statement late Monday afternon. In it, the Diocese said it cooperates fully with law enforcement.

"If Ms. Randles, or any other person, is aware of a situation of abuse, no matter how long ago, we want to know about it, because we want to make sure that perpetrator is out of ministry and that victim is given help in healing." 

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a statement on Monday that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had "instituted an ombudsman who regularly communicates with this office regarding potential allegations of abuse."

That arrangement with the Diocese followed from the indictment and prosecution of Bishop Robert Finn for failure to report suspected child abuse, a misdemeanor.

Baker also noted that her office has investiged other allegations of abuse by church officials but that the statute of limitations had passed, so her office could not press charges.

At a campaign stop Monday, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley said the reports of abuse across the country are "tragic and inexcusable." 

"If there is any victim in this state who has evidence, or believes they've been victimized, I strongly encourage them to come forward to our office," Hawley said.

But he did not address whether he'd agree to launch a grand jury investigation. 

Randles said her current and past clients plan to send letters of complaint to the attorney generals in the coming weeks. 

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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