All allegations are decades old, no clergy still in ministry tagged

PITTSBURG — The Catholic Diocese of Wichita last week released the names of 15 priests “who have substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor” — including five whose assignment history includes time spent in Crawford County.

Of these, Alonzo Smithhisler appears to have spent the most time in the area, with assignments to Our Lady of Lourdes in Pittsburg and the St. Pius X Catholic Student Center at Pittsburg State University from 1963 to 1970, St. Michael’s in Girard from 1972 to 1982, and St. Aloysius at Greenbush from 1975 to 1982. Smithhisler’s ministry ended in 1991 and he has been permanently removed from ministry, according to the diocese.

The second longest serving priest on the list is William Wheeler, assigned to St. Michael’s in Girard from 1963 to 1967. Wheeler’s ministry ended in 1985 and he died in 1994.

Paul Alderman, also listed as a priest with substantiated allegations of abuse, was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes in Pittsburg from 1965 to 1967. Alderman’s ministry ended in 1990 and he has been permanently removed from ministry, according to the diocese.

Robert K. Larson, assigned to St. Pius X Catholic Student Center at PSU from 1980 to 1981, is also named on the recently released list. Larson’s ministry ended in 1988 and he died in 2014.

Robert Schleiter, who in addition to the Diocese of Wichita has also been named on a similar list by the Diocese of Salina, was assigned to St. Mary’s Colgan Catholic High School in Pittsburg from 1964 to 1965. Schleiter’s ministry ended in 1969 and he died in 1995.

“An allegation is considered substantiated if it is supported by documentation, witness statements, law enforcement or another reliable source, the diocese said,” according to the Associated Press. “It is also considered substantiated if the priest admitted to it.”

After posting the list to its website Thursday, the diocese released a letter Friday from Bishop Carl Kemme.

“I am publishing this information after a comprehensive and independent audit of all clergy files,” Kemme wrote in the letter. “This audit was conducted over several months by Mr. Stephen Robison, a non-Catholic with many years of experience in criminal and civil investigations of Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson and Kitch, Attorneys at Law. Over 1300 files were carefully reviewed. As requested, I will soon provide information regarding these substantiated allegations to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which is currently conducting a statewide investigation of Catholic priests.”

Kemme also addressed victims of sexual abuse by clergy members.

“First and foremost, to the survivor victims and to their families, I express my most sincere and deepest apologies for the suffering you may have experienced due to these criminal, sinful and horrific acts by priests of this diocese. I acknowledge that trust in our priests and their bishops was severely damaged and, in some cases, destroyed completely. Since my arrival here as bishop and especially throughout this painful process, you have often been the focus of my thoughts and prayers. I pray that God will give you the healing and peace that only God can provide. I ask that our community of faith remember you in prayer,” Kemme wrote.

“I recognize that there may be some survivors who have not yet come forward to reveal their abuse. I encourage you to contact civil authorities, the local police department of your jurisdiction, the District Attorney of your county or the Kansas Bureau of Investigations so that a thorough investigation can be initiated.”

While most of the incidents involving the priests on the recently released list happened between the 1950s and 1980s, the diocese “immediately faced criticism by some in the victim advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,” the AP reported. “The group said in an email that bishops have been posting predator priests names on church websites for 17 years, and said Kemme must explain his ‘irresponsible delay’ in posting the list in Wichita.”

The group “also urged Kemme to take further steps such as including the photos whereabouts of every accused priest or deacon to help victims identify the clerics who assaulted them and warn others of their presence.”