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Metro advocacy organization calls for name change of Catholic center, names accused priests

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A group bringing awareness to victims of priest abuse is asking for a local organization to change its name. It's a well-known center serving the poor, named in honor of a former bishop, but critics say that bishop was in charge during a time of priest sexual abuse.

"Whenever we hear another name coming out, or another hiding of someone, that just sends another dagger into our heart," said abuse survivor Tom Viviano.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, is calling for the Bishop Sullivan Centers to change its name. There are three locations in the metro area. Two in KCMO and one in KCK.

"They do excellent work," said SNAP advocate David Biersmith. "Bishop Sullivan Center is a food pantry, and basically, and that neighborhood needs it."

Biersmith had two sons that were abused by a priest during the time Bishop Sullivan served the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph. Bishop Sullivan was never accused of abuse himself.

"Bishop Sullivan was the Bishop in Kansas City from 1977 to 1993 when a lot of this abuse was occurring," said SNAP advocate, Jim McConnell. "We think it's insulting to the victims that somebody's name like that would appear on a building."

"You taking the name down off of a building that at least shows us you're listening," Viviano said. " You may not like it, but you're listening."

The Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph responded to the call in a statement.

"The Bishop Sullivan Center is an independent charity in Kansas City which serves the poor. It is important to remember that victims of child sexual abuse often do not report their abuse for many years, even decades. Most of the abuse that occurred during Bishop Sullivan’s tenure was not reported until long after his service. Bishop Sullivan was never, himself, accused of abuse."

The Sullivan Center said in a statement:

"We are not aware of any of misconduct by Bishop Sullivan. On the contrary, we knew him as a man committed to helping people in poverty, which was why the Center was named after him. Many people we help are victims of abuse and we are sympathetic to that pain."

The group also named three deceased priests who worked in the area brought to light by the nearby Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

  1. John Rynish: Ordained to the priesthood on February 21, 1943, in the Cathedral of Kansas City, MO, by The Most Rev. Edwin O’Hara for the Diocese of Kansas City. Died in 2001.
    He served at the Holy Cross Parish and St. Stephen Parish in Kansas City.
  2. Eugene Deragowski: Ordained April 4, 1948, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Kansas City, MO, by The Most Reverend Edwin V. O’Hara, for the Diocese of Kansas City. Died in 1981.
    He served at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City.
  3. Mark Ernstmann: Ordained to the priesthood on June 2, 1951, in St. Joseph Church in Springfield, MO, by The Most Rev. Joseph M. Marling, Auxilary Bishop for the Diocese of Kansas City Missouri. Died in August 2013.
    He served at Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo.

"Regardless of whether they're in the church, passed away - regardless, because even if a priest passed away their victims are likely still alive, and still not finding that peace of mind, and still not finding that justice," Larry Davis, a survivor and advocate said.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has an office of Child and Youth Protection which handles concerns of sexual abuse, and provides resources to victims, and educates adults and children on recognizing and preventing future abuse. As allegations come forward the organization says they report alleged abuse to authorities and also do their own internal investigations.

In response to the cases that recently came to light they continued in their statement:

"The Diocese continues to actively cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation of Missouri dioceses. It is hoped that the Attorney General’s review will result in as thorough a list of historical abuse as possible. Our priority is to rigorously comply with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in order to make sure all children are safe from the evil of abuse. We are confident that there is no priest currently in ministry in Kansas City who has been accused of child sexual abuse."

A fourth priest the organization mentioned worked with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood parish in Jefferson City through last year. Their metro based parish confirms the priest was in the Kansas City area during an investigation into misconduct, but did not work during his time in Kansas City, and had no contact with children. He now serves for the organization's parish in his native Tanzania.

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