Kansas priest removed from parish after hiking trip with children

A screenshot shows the top of a letter sent from Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme to parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church.
A screenshot shows the top of a letter sent from Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme to parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church. The Wichita Eagle

A Catholic priest has been removed from the pulpit after taking a hiking trip with parish children and no other adults.

The Rev. Andrew Seiler was removed from ministry at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs last month after an Oct. 9 hiking trip, according to a letter from the diocese sent to parishioners Thursday and provided to The Eagle.

The letter said there were no allegations of abuse against Seiler and that “no harm was done to the children.” Being alone with a minor goes against behavioral boundaries set by the diocese.

A statement announcing Seiler’s leave was read at each of the Masses at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Conway Springs on the weekend of Oct. 14-15, and Seiler has not returned to the pulpit.

“My pledge to you and to all the people of the Diocese is to maintain a safe environment, one in which even the appearance of impropriety and potential scandal is avoided,” Wichita Bishop Carl Kemme wrote in the letter sent Thursday. “Father Andy’s lack of prudence and lapse in judgment on the day in question gave an appearance of impropriety and caused concerns.”

Seiler will participate in “a personal and priestly assessment,” including counseling, beginning Nov. 14. The letter said Seiler agreed to that and added Kemme is hopeful that Seiler will return to active ministry “as soon as possible.”

“I wish to thank the parents of these children for their courage in sharing their legitimate concerns with us,” Kemme wrote.

Seiler has been pastor of St. Joseph since 2008. The parish is made up of 364 families.

The Rev. John Lanzrath, vicar for priests, will be temporary administrator of St. Joseph Parish.

According to a summary of the “Code of Ethical Standards for Church Personnel” from the Diocese of Wichita, personnel are encouraged to “exercise prudent caution when meeting one-on-one with a minor.”

A document titled “Behavioral Boundaries for Ministry with Children” from the diocese says adults should “have at least one other adult present when working with minors. Conduct private conversations where there is open access and visibility.”

Those guidelines were developed in 2003, in the wake of Rev. Robert Larson’s conviction for abusing altar boys at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newton while he was a priest there in the late 1980s.

The charges to which Larson pleaded guilty grew out of a criminal investigation launched after The Eagle reported that several former altar boys from various parishes, including St. Joseph, said Larson had molested them. The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office said the statute of limitations prevented it from filing additional charges.

Larson was sentenced to five years in prison and died in 2014.

Seiler was ordained in 1988. Before his current post, he pastored St. Anthony and St. Rose in Wellington from 1996 to 2008. He previously worked as chaplain of Villa Maria Nursing Home in Mulvane, pastor of Holy Family in Marion County, pastor of St. Gabriel in Mulberry, pastor of St. Joseph in Arma and assistant at Our Lady of Lourdes in Pittsburg.

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess