Bishop John B. Brungardt of Dodge City has stepped aside while the Kansas Bureau of Investigation – the US state’s top law enforcement agency – investigates an allegation he abused a minor.
In Rome, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has authorized a preliminary inquiry. Pope Francis has named Bishop Gerald L. Vincke of Salina, Kansas, as Apostolic Administrator of Dodge City during the investigation.
“Bishop Brungardt denies the allegation,” a Monday statement from the Diocese of Dodge City read, “and is cooperating fully with the KBI.”
According to the reform law Pope Francis enacted in 2019, Vos estis lux mundi, the Metropolitan Archbishop is responsible for investigating junior bishops in his province. In Brungardt’s case, that is Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Kansas City on Monday confirmed that Archbishop Naumann will be leading the preliminary investigation, which is to be conducted “in conformity with the provisions of the Apostolic Letters motu proprio, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela and Vos estis lux mundi.”
Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela is a Church law dealing with the most serious crimes, including absolution of an accomplice in sexual sin, solicitation in the confessional, direct violation of the seal of Confession, and sexual abuse committed by a cleric with a minor under the age of 18.
Vos estis lux mundi is a sweeping reform law Pope Francis passed in 2019, which – on paper, at least – simplifies and facilitates reporting of abuse and coverup, and streamlines investigation and prosecution of criminal abuse and coverup on the part of clerics including bishops and other superiors.
“Archbishop Naumann will send the results of this preliminary investigation to the Congregation [For the Doctrine of the Faith],” the Kansas City archdiocesan statement said, “along with his opinion about the initial findings, in the shortest time possible, taking into account that the State investigation is still ongoing.”
Hailed as a sea change and watershed in Church leadership’s approach to the crisis of abuse and coverup, Vos estis lux mundi has seen uneven application in the nearly two years since its promulgation.
A few bishops have faced Vos estis investigations.
Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner of Crookston, Mn., allegedly pressured a man in formation for the permanent diaconate to keep silence regarding an abuse allegation the man had made against a priest before Hoeppner would allow him to receive Holy Orders. Hoeppner admitted to several charges against him in civil depositions. There is no word on the status of Hoeppner’s case, and Hoeppner himself remains in his see, more than a year after the Vatican ordered further investigation.
The Holy See very publicly opted not to useVos estis to investigate the spectacular misrule of Bishop Richard Malone in Buffalo, NY. The Holy See also looked at an alarming situation in Cincinnati Ohio, and decided – apparently – that it did not warrant further investigation under Vos estis.
A seminarian recently filed a $125 million lawsuit against the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archdiocese of New York, and senior administrators at the elite Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome, alleging they concocted a pretext on the basis of which to block him from further study at the NAC after he witnessed the vice rector exhibit inappropriate behavior with another student.
The College told CNA it was prepared to defend itself “vigorously” from the charges. “The claims in this case are absurd and baseless,” New York archdiocesan communications director Joseph Zwilling told the Catholic Herald. “We are prepared to defend against it, and will seek its dismissal in court,” Zwilling also said.
It is unclear what action, if any, Church officials in either the US or Rome are taking to ascertain the facts of the situation at the NAC.
The use of Vos estis in the case of Dodge City’s Bishop Brungardt comes as the second anniversary approaches of a major worldwide gathering of Church leaders to address the abuse and coverup crisis, the threefold watchword of which was: Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency.
Meanwhile, criminal investigators in Kansas continue to look into reports of sexual abuse in the state’s four Catholic dioceses. Now entering its third year, KBI’s investigation also encompasses the Society of St. Pius X, which has a significant presence in northern Kansas.