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Prairie Village Priest Placed On Leave After He's Accused Of Abuse

GRACE HOBSON

Sep 11, 2002

The pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Prairie Village is on administrative leave while church officials investigate an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1980s.

The Rev. William Haegelin left his home in the church's rectory Monday soon after being placed on leave, said the Rev. Charles McGlinn, vicar general for personnel with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

McGlinn received the allegation Friday.

Haegelin could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A man in his 30s sent a typed, two-page letter to the archdiocese accusing Haegelin of inappropriate sexual relations in the 1980s, McGlinn said, declining to be more specific about the letter's contents.

"It was a very serious letter, and we take it seriously," he said.

The accusation was made public in a news release Tuesday, five days after the Rev. Dennis Schmitz pleaded guilty in Douglas County, Kan., to inappropriately touching a 15-year-old Johnson County boy four years ago. Schmitz, a priest for 13 years, pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement. He is to be sentenced Oct. 18.

The man who made the accusations against Haegelin does not live in the area, McGlinn said. The man told church leaders he did not want his name to be released, McGlinn said.

It was unclear, McGlinn said, where Haegelin was serving when the alleged abuse took place. Haegelin has served at seven parishes since becoming a priest in 1976. He also spent a year attending school for hospital chaplaincy.

McGlinn received the letter Friday and spoke with Archbishop James Keleher on Sunday, the first time the archbishop was available, McGlinn said. By Monday afternoon, Haegelin was on leave and had moved out of the rectory. He is staying with friends or relatives, McGlinn said.

The archdiocese did not contact police because the statute of limitations had passed and the victim was not interested in getting law enforcement involved, McGlinn said.

An Independent Review Board made up of five lay persons and the Rev. Raymond Burger, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Eudora, Kan., is to interview the alleged victim next week.

Burger is making arrangements to add one more member, a male parishioner with a background in law enforcement. One board member is a St. Ann parishioner.

"The fact that we're working so fast on this should be a message to people," Burger said of the church's willingness to deal directly and swiftly with the allegation.

The investigation could take two weeks or more and will conclude with a recommendation to the archbishop, Burger said.

If the allegation proves true, the priest would be defrocked, McGlinn said.

The review board's work marks the first time it will investigate an old allegation against a current priest as outlined in a charter that American bishops adopted in June to protect children.

The board also is investigating an allegation against an unnamed retired priest from the archdiocese. Other allegations also were made against two deceased priests.

McGlinn said the allegation against Haegelin brought deep sadness to the archdiocese.

"People are in shock, and the whole church is in pain right now," McGlinn said.

Haegelin began his career as a priest at St. Agnes in Roeland Park, staying there from 1976 to 1979. He served at Blessed Sacrament in Kansas City, Kan., from 1979 to 1982, then joined Christ the King in Kansas City, Kan. He spent 1983 in school, then served dual pastorships at St. Lawrence in Easton, Kan., and St. Joseph of the Valley near Leavenworth from 1984 to 1986. He then joined St. Casimir & Sacred Heart in Leavenworth, where he was pastor until he left for St. Ann's in 1997.

Parishioners on Tuesday reacted with sadness and expressed hope for their pastor.

"We've all really respected him here," said Karla Leibham, principal of the St. Ann school.

Kelli Baker, of Roeland Park, said Haegelin is a well-spoken, community-minded priest who is a "very involved in the parish. He's a nice guy. I'm hopeful it's not true."


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