Nearly three years after launching an investigation into clergy sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses, Kansas’ top law enforcement agency has received 215 tips and opened 122 cases, legislators learned this week.
Robert Jacobs, executive officer of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, provided an update to members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Kansas Security during a meeting on law enforcement and security issues in the state.
Jacobs said the cases are the result of work by the KBI’s Catholic Clergy Taskforce that was established in 2019 at the request of the Attorney General’s Office.
“This task force was built based on calls that were coming in regarding abuse related to the Catholic Church and the dioceses,” he told the legislators, adding that investigators set up a phone line and an email address that people could use to report abuse.
“Since the inception, we’ve received 215 tips to those two lines,” Jacobs said. Of those, he said, “we’ve opened 122 investigations related to that.”
“And then working with these dioceses, which the KBI Taskforce has been doing, to get records and look through those records for past claims or past contacts, they’ve reviewed almost 40,000 diocesan records in that time.”
Investigators were not only interested in looking at the allegation itself, Jacobs said, but whether it was made to the diocese or to law enforcement “and what the follow through was on that claim when it was initially made.”
“That group continues to work, and I believe that there will be a report coming out when they’re completed with their work,” he said.
Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, asked Jacobs why no prosecutions had arisen from the investigation.
“Why, with 40,000 different records, there doesn’t seem to be any action on this?” Pittman said. “Is the pursuit not revealing anything? I mean, it seems like there’s a lot in the news about this. What’s the story?”
One issue, Jacobs said, is that some of the alleged acts took place years ago.
“Obviously, we run into time constraints with how far back these incidents occurred,” he said.
The KBI announced in early 2019 that Attorney General Derek Schmidt had requested the investigation in November 2018. The agency said it convened a task force of six agents to investigate abuse reports received from the public and complete a review of church documents.
The investigation originally focused on reports of clergy sexual abuse in the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses — Wichita, Salina, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas. It then expanded to include the Society of St. Pius X, a breakaway Catholic group known for its traditional Latin Mass with a large branch in St. Marys in northeast Kansas.
Among the clergy under investigation is a bishop.
In February, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas announced that the KBI was investigating an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Roman Catholic Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City.
The archdiocese said that “Bishop Brungardt denies the allegation and is cooperating fully with the KBl.”
Brungardt, a former high school science teacher, asked to step aside from his duties until the matter was resolved, the archdiocese said. That decision was supported by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Kansas City, Kansas, archdiocese. Naumann was conducting a canonical preliminary investigation into the matter, the archdiocese said, and was to report the results to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has conducted a similar investigation into priest sex abuse in his state.
In September 2019, Schmitt released a 329-page report detailing his office’s year-long investigation that included interviews with victims and a review of personnel records dating back to 1945 of more than 2,000 priests and 300 deacons, seminarians and religious women.
The investigation found 163 clergy members who had been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct of minors. Of those, Schmitt referred 12 former clergy members for possible criminal prosecution.
At least one case has developed from those referrals. A priest who served in the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau before retiring in 2011 was charged last year with forcible sodomy and deviate sexual assault in connection with the alleged abuse of a teenage boy in southeast Missouri in 2000. The case is scheduled for a jury trial in Cape Girardeau in February.