KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Local accusers and the lawyer who represents the majority of the victims in the Kansas City metro area question new plans to investigate Catholic priests.
They say recent history sheds light on how the church protects itself at all costs.
To date, the Catholic dioceses in the Kansas City area have paid out $24 million in legal fees and compensation. But, two local accusers, Tom Viviano and Mike Foreman, say that’s all about appearances, not penance.
“It’s too horrible of a story and nobody wants to hear it.” Vivano said of their struggle for justice. “Everybody deep down wishes they could sweep it under the rug, but we can’t.”
As a boy, Viviano attended Catholic school at St. Aloysius in St. Louis.
The church was torn down in 2005, but Viviano says he still carries the scars of what at least three priests did to him from the third to eighth grade.
The memories for Viviano are vivid and haunting.
“It’s going through my mind right now, what took place,” he told us. “And I hate living through it," he said.
When he came forward to report being sexually abused, he was questioned by the church’s attorneys.
He believes those attorneys knew how painful those memories could be and used them as a tool to shake his confidence and keep him from speaking out.
Viviano recalls being grilled for hours as the attorneys probed for explicit details of his abuse.
The questions are so graphic and disturbing that KCTV5 News has chosen not to publish them.
“The Catholic church is paying these lawyers to ask these questions, ” Mike Foreman said of Viviano’s deposition. “While they are talking to the public about healing, mercy and empathy.”
Foreman filed a separate lawsuit against the archdiocese of Kansas City, KS which oversaw the Queen of the Holy Rosary in Overland Park where he used to attend.
He was counseled by Father Finnian Meiss, a priest from the nearby Good Sheppard Church.
Foreman was just one of multiple accusers who came forward to say Meiss sexually abused them as children.
But when he sued for compensation, the church fought the case and won on technicality, because the alleged abuse exceeded the statute of limitations.
He was never given the chance to give a deposition.
Foreman says it makes him angry to see the church fighting and winning court battles while at the same time holding public healing ceremonies encouraging compassion and empathy for victims.
“We are both iron clad proof those are flat out lies. And those lies are directed to Catholics and the general public. That’s all public relations, that’s all that is," Foreman said.
Foreman now has his own website. He’s even made a sign to hold outside his former parish.
“It is an absolute poverty the statute of limitations is the crown jewel of the Catholic church. What does God think of that?” the back of the sign reads.
What advocates want
Attorney Rebecca Randles represents both men.
“We haven’t seen a search for the truth. We find a search for defense,” Randles said.
She and her clients are pushing for the creation of grand juries in Kansas and Missouri that would have the power to subpoena and fully investigate all Catholic churches in both states.
In the meantime, they want to see more outreach to the victims who know what really happened.
“When you speak to victims, that gives you new places to go look for documents that support and corroborate evidence. Just opening personnel files doesn’t do that," Randles said.
Randles says it’s not just about the past, it’s about the future.
“How do you ever prevent this from happening again if you don’t know what happened before?” Randles said.
For now, Viviano and Foreman say they will have to live with the pain of what happened and hold out hope they’ll one day see justice.
“I’d like to see accountability.” Viviano said. “And we haven’t seen it yet. What we’ve seen is cover ups, and that’s a shame.”
Catholic diocese respond
We reached out to both diocese mentioned in our report.
The Saint Louis Archdiocese declined to comment on Viviano’s claims due to pending litigation.
“Archbishop Carlson recently invited in the Attorney General of MO to review our files. The Archdiocese of St. Louis has a verifiable history of cooperating with authorities. Additionally, we have a Review Board made up of mostly lay professionals, etc., whose recommendations Archbishop Carlson has always followed," a spokesperson for the diocese says.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas issued the following statement:
It is often very difficult to investigate historic cases like Mr. Foreman’s, which took place more than 40 years ago. His accused abuser, Finian Mies, has been dead for more than 20 years, and was removed from the priesthood 30 years ago because of sexual misconduct with minors and adults.
When an allegation of abuse by a priest is brought to the attention of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, it is never considered “too old” to receive a comprehensive investigation, hearing and appropriate response.
In fact, matters presented to the Independent Review Board of a historic nature carry an even greater weight with its members. The board is comprised of mental health and law enforcement professionals, a member who has professionally advocated for abuse victims, a victim of clergy sexual abuse, and a member of the clergy. Board members recognize, therefore, that victims of abuse — whether it be clerical, familial or other — could have been struggling under the weight of that abuse for decades.
In this case, as in others, the protocols and procedures that have been in place for many years guided the process. A rigorous and comprehensive investigation was conducted by an independent law enforcement professional, and Mr. Foreman was given a full and complete hearing, as well as offered support and assistance with counseling.
In the end, however, based on the testimony that was given and the investigation that was conducted, the allegations could not be substantiated.
The Archdiocese remains committed to investigating any allegation of abuse of a minor made against any member of the clergy or any church employee or volunteer — no matter the age of the incident or the current age of the victim. Individuals are encouraged to call the confidential report line at (913) 647-3051 to make a report to Jan Saylor, archdiocesan report investigator, and to call law enforcement directly.