KSN Investigates: Accused priest William Wheeler

KSN Investigates

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — In the past year, the Catholic Diocese of Wichita has added seven names to the list of priests with “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.” It brings the total to 22 priests who served the diocese, with either substantiation from the diocese or whose name appears on another diocese or order’s list.

There also is an ongoing Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) investigation into alleged clergy abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The KBI opened 120 cases since the investigation began in 2018.

One family’s story

Three brothers are opening up to KSN about the abuse they say they endured at the hands of one now deceased Catholic priest. We found out the diocese gave different answers about this very same priest nearly 25 years apart.

The court took the Albert children away from their parents in the 1940s and placed them at St. Joseph Children’s Home in El Dorado, Kansas.

“Some of the nuns were good to us,” Dean Albert said.

“But the big thing is you didn’t have your parents,” Ray Albert said.

KSN first told you about the brothers in 1996. They were suing the Diocese of Wichita, claiming clergy abuse. One of the priests they named was Father William Wheeler.

1950s

The diocese assigned Wheeler to St. Joseph Children’s Home from 1956-1960. He was assigned to several locations within the Wichita Diocese from 1955-1960.

Dean Albert (KSN photo)

“I knew he had some problems,” Dean Albert said.

Dean Albert said he and his brothers were on their way to the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska with Wheeler in the summer of 1957 when they were molested.

1990s

The brothers reported the abuse to the Wichita Diocese in the 1990s. In response, Roy Albert got a letter, dated April 20, 1995, from Father Ronald Gilmore, the diocesan vicar general, who later became the bishop of the Dodge City Diocese.

“Father Wheeler, before he died, flatly denied all these allegations,” the letter says. “Further, there is nothing in Father Wheeler’s file or in his history that would suggest any such problem. The burden of proof remains on you, therefore. And what you offer as proof is nothing more than your word against his. I am reduced to weighing a ‘they said’ against a ‘he said’.”

Gilmore offered to pay for mental health evaluations for the brothers. In the letter, he said that he would consider a reputable therapist’s findings.

When KSN reported on the lawsuit in 1996, Gilmore spoke with our reporter.

“I know they had a very difficult time and a really tough life, but it seems to me, when they come right down to these specific practical things they’re alleging, they don’t have the documentation to prove it,” Gilmore said in 1996.

The courts dismissed the Alberts’ lawsuit, as the statute of limitations expired. All of the clergy members they accused are dead.

Over the years, the Alberts told their alleged abuse stories to local newspapers, online publications that track alleged clergy abuse, and one journalist who wrote a book about their life.

2019 – The ‘List’ comes out

Then in September 2019, the diocese named Wheeler as someone who had “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor” against him.

In 2019, the diocese declined our on-camera interview with Bishop Carl Kemme and it continues to turn down our repeated requests.

So we called the attorney the diocese hired to investigate claims of abuse. Wichita attorney Stephen Robison agreed to our interview in 2019. He told us he got access to what the Catholic Church refers to as secret files.

“The diocese keeps three sets of files,” Robison said in 2019. “They have general information files, they have confidential files and then they have secret files, and I reviewed all of those files.”

Robison said he made the determination for the diocese there was enough in Wheeler’s file to determine the allegations to be credible. However, he would not say when the diocese knew about the allegations and he also did not say if new allegations came to light against Wheeler after 1995, or if the Alberts’ claims against him also contributed to his decision.

KBI investigation

Only three priests on the Wichita Diocese list are still alive. The KBI is still investigating and a spokesperson said they cannot reveal any case details outside of a courtroom.

“No arrests or charges have been made yet as a result of the investigations, however, we are making progress,” the spokesperson said.

The Alberts say the KBI contacted them and they support the KBI investigation.

Ray Albert (KSN Photo)

“I think they’re so overwhelmed,” Ray Albert said. “They said they’ll get back to us eventually. I was not happy with the way they (Diocese of Wichita) handled it. It’s not only us, there was a lot of other kids.”

“We don’t need to be lied to anymore, we just know the facts,” Dean Albert said.

The KBI continues to ask you to report clergy abuse, no matter when it happened or if someone previously reported it. You can report abuse by calling 1-800 KS CRIME.

KBI Clergy Abuse Investigation
SNAP: Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Digital Extra: Locations where accused priests have served in Kansas

Catholic Diocese of Wichita
Catholic Diocese of Salina
Catholic Diocese of Dodge City
Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City

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