Text of Independent Review Board statement
Statement of the Rev. J.Gordon Kingsley, Ph.D., Chairman of the Independent Review Board for Professional Conduct, concerning Father Thomas Ward and retired priests of the diocese, April 15, 2002:
Father Thomas Ward, who was named in the April 13 article in The Kansas City Star entitled, "Accused priest, now retired has church role," along with three other priests of the diocese have been accused of sexually abusing minors. Only one report came to our attention this past week. All allegations date back many years, even decades. All of the priests are now retired. They celebrate Mass in various parishes from time to time but are not assigned to those parishes and have no contact with minors. One resides outside the Midwest.
Let me emphasize that, just because an allegation is made against a priest, that does not mean he is guilty. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago was falsely accused and, just recently, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles was found to have been falsely accused.
That brings us to the case of Father Ward. A suit was filed alleging that he sexually abused a minor. The suit was dismissed by one court and reinstated by another. All court records are and have been a matter of public record. The diocese did not request that the records be sealed. Furthermore, this was reported by the media at that time. Father Ward denied the accusation but was suspended and sent to Menninger Clinic for evaluation. There he received a favorable report. The diocesan Independent Review Board studied the information and had serious reservations about the allegation. The Board made a unanimous recommendation that the parishioners of Father Ward's parish, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Independence, should decide whether they wanted Father Ward to return.
Bishop Raymond Boland wrote a letter to the parishioners saying that Ward's evaluation, "gave no reason to believe that the allegations might be true." The vicar general spoke at every Mass on a particular Sunday to explain the situation. The parish voted 845 to 17 to reinstate Father Ward. All of this was a totally open process and was covered in detail by the media, including The Kansas City Star and The Catholic Key. Father Ward served for two more years before retiring on September 1, 1996.
Naming the three other priests would simply subject them to a media trial, whether they are guilty or not. Their ages range from the 70s to the 90s, and they have no contact with minors. In each of these cases, and always in the past, the diocese did and will always continue to comply with all reporting regulations of Missouri law.
Dr. Kingsley is an ordained Baptist minister and former president of William Jewell College.