Robert Larson, the Catholic priest convicted of sexually abusing altar boys while serving in the Wichita diocese, has died.
Diocesan officials on Thursday said Larson died Aug. 27 at the age of 84. He was buried in his home state of Michigan.
“We pray for all victims of sexual abuse and for their families,” the Most Rev. Carl Kemme, bishop of the Wichita diocese, said in a statement following Larson’s death. “We continue to learn from them and we recommit ourselves to vigilance in protecting children and young people from the tragedy of sexual abuse.”
Larson pleaded guilty in 2001 in Harvey County District Court to abusing three altar boys and a 19-year-old man while he was pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton in the mid-1980s. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The charges to which Larson pleaded guilty grew out of a criminal investigation launched after The Eagle published a story in which several former altar boys from various parishes around the diocese claimed Larson had molested them. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office announced the statute of limitations prevented them from filing additional charges against Larson.
The Eagle’s own investigation into Larson began after a Conway Springs couple, Horace and Janet Patterson, revealed that their son Eric had committed suicide in October 1999, not long after telling them he had been abused by Larson when he was an altar boy.
Upon Larson’s release, he was transferred by the Wichita diocese to the St. John Vianney Renewal Center near Dittmer, Mo. The facility is a long-term care center for priests who have engaged in sexual misconduct.
Larson spent 30 years as a priest in the Wichita diocese before being removed from the pulpit in 1988 and sent out of state for treatment. He was eventually stripped of the title and duties of a priest and ordered not to dress or represent himself as a priest. He was not defrocked, however.
“We hope Larson’s death will provide some comfort to the hundreds who were hurt by his crimes against at least 17 children,” David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement.
“We are grateful and will always be grateful to the courageous victims who helped expose, prosecute and convict Larson. Our hearts ache for them and their families, especially the Pattersons, who worked tirelessly to protect other children and comfort other victims from coast to coast.”
Clohessy urged Kemme to visit every parish where Larson worked and ask parishioners to help him “find and console every single child who was assaulted by this admitted criminal.”
He also encouraged anyone who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by Larson or other Wichita clerics, regardless of religious denomination, to “get help, seek justice and start healing.
“No one benefits when victims stay silent,” Clohessy said.