Independent Ombudsman to join Kansas Archdiocese

Diocese engages former FBI agents to compile list of clerics credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors

Jenifer Valenti (Lori Wood Habiger photo courtesy of the Leaven)

By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor

Jenifer Valenti, Independent Ombudsman for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, has accepted the position of Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. She completes her service as Ombudsman in Kansas City – St. Joseph on April 26, while she remains an active parishioner and volunteer in the diocese.

Valenti became Ombudsman in 2011 as part of Bishop Emeritus Robert Finn’s response to failures made in handling a case of the creation of child pornography by a diocesan priest. Her commission was broad: to receive and investigate all accusations of child sexual abuse and boundary violations against any cleric, employee or volunteer of the diocese, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

Most importantly, Valenti was empowered to independently report cases of child sexual abuse to civil authorities and law enforcement without supervision or approval by diocesan officials. Valenti is a former assistant prosecuting attorney in Jackson County. At the time of her hire, she was the first Independent Ombudsman in an American diocese.

“Jenifer has served in a way that has brought great strength to our diocese’s response to the evil of child sexual abuse,” Bishop Johnston wrote in his column in this week’s Key (page 4). “She brought great integrity and talent to her role . . . While we will miss her here, I am happy she will still be serving the church on the other side of the state line.”

“When the scandal hit the news in the Diocese in 2011, I felt it was my opportunity to work to make a difference locally in how the Church has addressed the sexual abuse crisis,” Valenti said. “As a result of my partnership with the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the Diocese, a lot has been accomplished.  I’ve established positive working relationships with civil authorities, raised awareness on the importance of transparency and accountability, and helped to initiate some proactive safety measures.”

Valenti’s responsibilities at the Archdiocese will include oversight of the safe environment program and staff (including the compliance administrator, report investigator and victim assistance coordinator), response to reports of abuse and care for victims; and assuring continued compliance with the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Valenti has worked previously with Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas during his time as Administrator of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph. “I could see how conscientious she was about her work, how insightful she was, in the recommendations she brought to me when I was the administrator,” Archbishop Naumann said. “She is a woman who is highly respected and trusted within the Kansas City community.”

“The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas has demonstrated a proactive and transparent approach to the sexual abuse scandal,” Valenti said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to use my professional background and expertise to strengthen the program, recognizing one of the most critical qualifications I bring to the position will be from my vocation as a parent.”

Valenti thanked those who placed their trust in her as Ombudsman “at a time when trust had been significantly corroded.”

“There are so many dedicated advocates working towards justice and healing in the Church,” she said. “I have great admiration for the members of the Diocese and greater community who continue to work on the front lines in abuse preventative and response efforts.”

The diocese is already engaged in a search for a new Independent Ombudsman. Lay members of the Diocesan Independent Review Board will be deeply involved in vetting a new candidate. Visit kcsjcatholic.org/start/job-openings to see the full job offering.

In the interim period, all are encouraged to continue to report suspicions of abuse and boundary violations by clerics, employees or volunteers to 816-812-2500. Calls will still be received by an independent lay person while the search continues for a permanent Independent Ombudsman. As always, if the victim is currently under the age of 18, call the Missouri Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.392.3738 and contact your local law enforcement agency or call 911.

List of Credibly Accused Clerics

The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph has also announced it has engaged an independent firm to conduct a thorough review of diocesan files for the purpose of compiling a report and list of clerics credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors who have served in the diocese.

Fidelity Consultants, LLC is composed of three investigators, each with 20 plus years of experience with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before founding the St. Louis based investigative and consulting firm.

“Many dioceses have already released such lists in the past few months. It is my desire to do so as well,” Bishop Johnston wrote in his Key column this week. “This process, by its very nature, is painstakingly deliberate. I intend for an eventual report to be thorough, accurate, and as complete as possible.”

The diocese continues to cooperate with the State Attorney General’s investigation of Missouri’s four dioceses. Should a list be released by the diocese as a result of Fidelity’s investigation prior to the completion of the State Attorney General’s investigation, any additional credible accusations uncovered will be added to the list. Likewise, if clerics are identified and judged to be credibly accused, these names will be added to the list.

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Thursday
August 22, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph