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Salina Catholic Diocese Release Report on Clergy Abuse

KSAL StaffMarch 29, 2019

The Salina Catholic Diocese on Friday released a list of substantiated allegations of clergy sexual abuse of a minor.

According to a statement from Bishop Gerald Vincke, there are 14 diocesan priests who have substantiated allegations of abuse of a minor. Additionally, the results of the independent investigation conducted by the Order of Franciscan Minors Capuchin Province of St. Conrad, headquartered in Denver listed 13 Capuchins who have served in the Salina diocese at some point within their ministry and who have credible allegations of abuse of a minor.

The Diocese of Concordia was founded in 1887. The Diocese of Concordia then became the Diocese of Salina in 1944. During a span of 132 years, with approximately 300 diocesan priests having served in the Diocese of Salina, 14 diocesan priests were identified to have substantiated allegations of abuse of a minor. A substantiated allegation is one that has been corroborated with witness statements, documents, emails, photos, texts, or by another source, such as law enforcement. None of the 14 priests are in active ministry today. Of the 14 priests, 12 are deceased and the remaining two are laicized. At this time, the Diocese of Salina is only releasing the names of clerics with substantiated allegations of abuse of a minor. Any cleric with an allegation of abuse of a minor that is unsubstantiated has been excluded from the list. If new information is provided that leads to the substantiation of a case, the Diocese of Salina will update the list of clergy abuse of minors accordingly.

Just as the Salina Diocese conducted an internal audit, so did the Order of Franciscan Minors Capuchin Province of St. Conrad, headquartered in Denver. The Capuchins are a religious order who have had a strong presence within the Salina Diocese, particularly in the Hays and Victoria area. Father Christopher Popravak, Provincial of the Denver Province of Capuchins, shared the results of the Capuchin internal audit with the Salina Diocese. Of the approximate 300 Capuchins who have served in the Salina Diocese, 13 priests/brothers were found to have credible allegations of abuse of a minor. The names of these priests/brothers have been included within this edition of The Register, along with additional information provided to the Diocese of Salina by the Capuchins for release.

Bishop Statement:

The independent investigation showed that the clergy files were not well organized. Officials have taken steps to remedy this situation. This is one mistake. But, I would like to share with you the mistakes the Diocese of Salina made with regard to four separate priest cases.

There were times when allegations against Msgr. William Merchant were not properly investigated. In looking at Msgr. Merchant’s file, I was disheartened to discover that these allegations were mishandled. In 1968, the Salina Diocese received two allegations of abuse of a minor against Msgr. Merchant. A more thorough investigation of these allegations should have been done. In 1999, another allegation of abuse of a minor was made against Msgr. Merchant. It does not appear that a thorough investigation into this allegation was conducted until 2002, when the alleged victim reached out again. In 2002, the Salina Diocese properly investigated the allegation. Since then, several individuals have made allegations of abuse of a minor against Msgr. Merchant. I believe that the Salina Diocese has taken the proper course of action with the allegations that occurred following 2002.

In 2002, an allegation of abuse of a minor was made against Father Roger Hough. The Lay Review Board and local law enforcement investigated the allegation. The Lay Review Board recommended that Father Hough be removed from active ministry and placed under restrictions. This recommendation was not acted on until 2005. In 2005, restrictions were placed on Father Hough. Additionally, the Lay Review Board submitted a report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome to ensure the permanency of the disciplinary and restrictive measures placed on Father Hough.

In 2001, there was an allegation made against Father John Walsh. At that time, prior to concluding a thorough investigation, Father Walsh was allowed to retire, apparently without restrictions.

Father Robert Schleiter, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita who was serving in the Salina Diocese, had substantiated allegations against him in the 1950s. He was immediately asked to leave the diocese, and he did. However, in the 1990s, an alleged victim contacted the diocese to report abuse, and the diocese did not respond appropriately. The same alleged victim contacted the diocese again in 2003. At this point, the diocese responded to his allegation.

It is difficult to share these failings with you. But, I think it is necessary. The Church needs to be open, honest and transparent. The Church has made mistakes. The Diocese of Salina has made mistakes. I am very sorry for the mistakes that we have made. It is my sincere desire that we can learn from our errors and never let them happen again.

As a diocese, we have already made progress ensuring that we respond appropriately and effectively to any allegations of misconduct that are made against any clergy. Every year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops contracts an independent group to audit every single diocese in the country to ensure that any allegations against a member of the clergy have been handled correctly. We have consistently passed these audits since 2004. Additionally, we ensure that every Salina diocesan seminarian goes through a thorough background check and psychological evaluation before entering into the seminary. While in the seminary, annual human formation reports are submitted to my office for review. Our diocese requires any person who works with minors to undergo formal training (please see FAQ’s for more details). And lastly, in order to serve outside of their own diocese, all members of the clergy must have a letter of suitability from their bishop stating that they are “a priest in good-standing.”

I ask for your continued support and prayers for our diocese. Personally, I am praying for healing. I have offered numerous Masses in my chapel for the people who are victims of clergy abuse, and I have visited 29 parishes in our Diocese and offered a Mass of Healing. I will be visiting the remaining 57 parishes throughout the rest of 2019.

I am sincerely grateful that the individuals who are victims of abuse and their families have spoken out. Thank you for keeping the Church accountable. Your courage will bring about the purification that we need. If you are a victim of abuse and have not reported it, please do so.

Diocesan Clergy Implicated:

  • Bachand, Louis
  • Dion, Maurice
  • Dreiling, Christian
  • Hough, Roger
  • Mattas, Louis
  • Merchant, William
  • Moeder, John
  • O’Donohoe, Thomas
  • Reif, Robert
  • Scheer, Allen*
  • Schleiter, Robert
  • Senecal, Eugene
  • Van Speybroeck, Arthur
  • Walsh, John
Capuchin Friars Implicated:
  • Beyer, Gregory
  • Colucci, Bennett
  • Gilardi, Ron
  • Gottschalk, David
  • Gross, Matthew*
  • Haas, Julian
  • Jones, David
  • Meis, Finian
  • Posey, Thaddeus
  • Schartz, Daniel
  • Scarry, Benignus
  • Shinsky, Felix
  • Wolfe, Charles

Copyright © Rocking M Media, 2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced without Rocking M Media’s express consent.

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