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Church Vows to Never Forget

Memorial to Serve as 'Permanent Reminder' of Clergy Sex Abuse

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. (foreground, center) and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph held a Service of Lament Sunday to apologize to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. (Photo: Daniel Boothe | Flatland)
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The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Sunday concluded a series of “healing services” it has held around the area for much of the past year, but Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. said the diocese will never forget the victims who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of its priests.

As part of his 25-minute homily, Johnston broadly outlined ways the diocese will remember the victims and their families. It plans to:

  • Erect a memorial that Johnston described as “a visible, permanent reminder, a special place” that will “honor the stories” of the victims.
  • Establish a remembrance committee that will include victims, survivors and their families. The committee will aid in brainstorming the memorial design.
  • Hold a diocese-wide day of prayer each year during Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is held in April.
  • Create a multi-disciplinary team of diocese officials that will review church policies and implement “best church practices.”

“I am here to apologize, confess and repent for the sins of those who held a sacred trust in the church, and betrayed that trust,” Johnston said. “I am here to express repentance for the priests, bishops, and anyone in the service of the church whose actions, or inactions harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.”

The diocese’s financial compensation to the victims has included a 2014 agreement to pay nearly $10 million to settle 32 cases that alleged sexual abuse by priests.

Johnston encouraged the victims to set aside any animosities, saying that “forgiveness is a gift to yourself. We forgive because it heals us, but it isn’t easy.”

Pope Francis appointed Johnston to lead the diocese in September, following the scandal-plagued tenure of Bishop Robert Finn.

Finn was convicted in September 2012 for failing to notify authorities about a priest who later pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. That priest, Shawn Ratigan, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison and has since been removed from the priesthood.

The diocese has a ways to go to earn back the trust of people who were abused by priests, said Rebecca Randles, an attorney who has represented victims. They remain skeptical of the church even as it strives to make amends.

“How can they trust this when they can’t trust the past?” she said. “If the diocese wants to reach out to the victims, the healing masses should be the beginning, not the end.”

And that is exactly the plan, said Diocese Victim Services Coordinator Kathleen Chastain.

“The diocese does not see the healing services as a fix-all, or as a definitive way to help each and every victim,” she said. “But we are trying, and this is a start.”

— Daniel Boothe is a reporter for Kansas City Public Television. To reach Boothe email him at dboothe@kcpt.org.

This story is part of the KCPT and Hale Center for Journalism project Beyond Belief, a series of stories and discussions about faith in our city. The project is part of Localore: Finding America, created by AIR, a Boston-based network of independent public media producers. Principle funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


Letter to the Victims

Prior to Sunday’s service, Johnston sent a letter to each of the victims. Read his letter below.

Peace be with you.

As you may know, I became the new bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph a bit over six months ago.  I have had a steep learning curve to become aware of the needs here.  It didn’t take me long to see that there was a critical need to acknowledge the wounds inflicted by persons in the Church and open more paths to healing.  I understand that you are one of those persons who have been harmed.

Each of us is unique, and each person’s path to healing is unique, so it is challenging to know how best to help.  In an effort to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, I want to offer this personal invitation to attend a Service of Lament, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 West 12th Street, Kansas City, MO 64105, on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.

During the prayer service, on behalf of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph I will offer an apology and outline my plans for the future related to these paths toward healing.  We will together turn to God with our sorrows, burdens, and hopes, knowing that the most important healing comes about only with the help of God’s grace.  Please allow me to demonstrate my sincere commitment to the spiritual and emotional well-being of the good people of this Diocese.  I hope that this might be an occasion for a step in your healing journey.  I realize you may not be ready, and that’s okay.  I cannot imagine what you have gone through.  But, if you are ready, know you are welcome.

Among the deepest sorrows I have for those who have been abused by an agent of the Church, is that often the ties to the Family of God, the community of believers, is wounded.  We all need the presence and support of others as we move through life. The community of faith can offer the nourishment and strength that comes from sacraments and the Word of God.  My hope is that you will not allow your abuser to rob you of this blessing, I pray that you will find comfort in your spiritual family.

The Diocese offers assistance to survivors of sexual abuse by Church personnel through support and care, resources and counseling.  If you would like assistance, please contact our Victim Services Coordinator, Kathleen Chastain, at 816.392.0011 or chastain@diocesekcsj.org.  Kathleen is dedicated to help you in your healing journey.

It is my God-given responsibility as your Bishop to assist in binding up the wounds caused by the breach of trust you experienced.  I am committed to meet with you to listen to your experiences and concerns and offer you my prayers, love and support.  Know you are prayed for by your family in Christ.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend James V. Johnston, Jr.

Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph


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