Now agreeing with former priest’s victim, Kansas City archdiocese says abuse claim was substantiated

Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas/ Mwkruse, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crediting a sex abuse victim for his challenge of a review board’s ruling in 2002, the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas says an allegation that a now-laicized priest abused a minor was, in fact, able to be substantiated. 

“The archdiocese is particularly grateful for this survivor’s courage and strength in coming forward to challenge the decision,” the archdiocese said in a June 18 statement in the case involving former priest William Haegelin.

“Due to this persistence, we are now able to acknowledge more fully the harm to the survivor and to better assist and support their healing,” the archdiocese said. “Archbishop Naumann offers his sincere apology to the survivor, their family and community.”

Voicing “deep sorrow for the suffering of victims and survivors of abuse,” the archdiocese said that former priest William Haegelin was in fact the subject of “a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”

Haegelin was removed from ministry in 2002 and laicized in 2004. The archdiocese said an investigation in 2002 “led to an inaccurate determination and announcement that he did not sexually abuse a minor.”

The archdiocese’s statement did not explain the reasons for reversing the announcement.

A man who said the priest sexually abused him as a minor in the 1980s had written a two-page letter documenting his allegations to the archdiocese in 2002.

After receiving the letter, the archdiocese put Haegelin on administrative paid leave. The archdiocese’s independent review board then ruled there was no evidence that Haegelin had sexual relations with his accuser when the latter was a minor. There was, however, evidence that he did have relations when the accuser was a legal adult, the review board found.

Some 19 years later, the archdiocese has now added Haegelin’s name to its list of credibly accused priests, published on the archdiocese website. He had been listed before in the category “Previously Publicized Allegations Not Able to Be Substantiated.”

“Archbishop Naumann urges anyone harmed by William Haegelin to contact both law enforcement and the archdiocese,” the archdiocese said. 

“The archdiocese takes very seriously its obligation to address any allegation of abuse or misconduct by church personnel.”

The archdiocese encouraged any new allegation of abuse to be reported to the Kansas Protection Report Center. Those who suspect abuse or misconduct by an archdiocesan cleric, employee or volunteer should also contact the archdiocese’s confidential report line.

Haegelin’s last assignment was at St. Ann Catholic Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. 

In 2002, the archdiocese’s then-vicar general Msgr. Charles McGlinn said then-Archbishop James P. Keleher hoped that Haegelin would return to service in the archdiocese after taking a sabbatical and undergoing spiritual counseling, the Kansas City Star reports.

In November 2002, Haegelin said in a statement that he thought the review board had conducted a “full and fair investigation.”

“I look forward to the coming time granted to me for spiritual renewal ... and ask for your continued prayers,” the priest stated at the time.

While incidents of Catholic sex abuse by clergy appear to have peaked in the U.S. in the mid-1970s, victims of abuse often take years to come forward. Only in 2002 did the Catholic Church come under massive external criticism, resulting in ongoing efforts by the U.S. bishops and other Catholic institutions to better address abuse, respond to and assist survivors, and mandate training to help prevent abuse.

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Clergy sex abuse victimized tens of thousands of people in the U.S. and Catholic institutions have spent billions of dollars in legal judgments and other agreements.

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