“Just One Jesuit”: Communities’ Accounts of the Effects of Clergy Sexual Abuse through the Lens of a Singular Priest’s Mission Activities

 

Creighton University

Project Description

This project traces the rippling effects of sexual abuse of minors by one Jesuit priest throughout the Omaha, Nebraska community and beyond. Daniel Kenney, S.J. (1932- ) worked at Creighton Preparatory School, a Jesuit all-boys high school, as an instructor of theology and sex education from 1965-1989. While there, Kenney gained notoriety as the charismatic “monkey priest” who used a monkey puppet named “Buford” to connect with children and to raise money for children’s causes. He founded two charitable organizations centered on supporting economically disadvantaged children: Operation Others and the Buford Foundation. Both were successful, in part, due to Kenney’s magnetic personality and fundraising capabilities. In 1989, Creighton Preparatory School dismissed Kenney in response to a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a Prep student, although little was known of this accusation in the broader Omaha community. He was moved from the relatively affluent and predominantly white high school to colonized settings: Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota (where he stayed for just 5 months) and then Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi, Kenya (where he resided for a decade, from 1993-2003). In 2003, Kenney was removed from public ministry and brought back to the United States. After Kenney’s initial dismissal from Prep, seven other accusations were made by former Creighton Prep students and deemed credible by the Midwest Jesuits, and became known in 2018 when the Omaha Archdiocese and the Midwest Jesuits publicly named Kenney as a priest credibly accused of the sexual abuse of minors. Since then, additional former Creighton Prep students have reported instances of sexual misconduct by Kenney to the Omaha World Herald, although very little is known regarding the breadth of abuse or the institutional context in which it took place and subsequently revealed. Speaking with survivors, witnesses and administrators, we seek to stitch together a portrait of what happened in Daniel Kenney’s case, why and how were decisions made, what wounds remain, and how Jesuit institutions might better care for minors in the future.

Principal Investigators

Julia FederJulia Feder, Ph.D., is associate professor of theology at Creighton University. She specializes in theological anthropology, theologies of suffering, sexual trauma and human evolution. In her current book project, Trauma and Salvation: A Theology of Healing, she constructs a theology of healing from sexual trauma informed by the 16th century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila and the 20th century Flemish political theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx.  Her articles appear in Theological Studies, the Journal of Religion and SocietyAnthropology News, and Philosophy, Theology, and the Sciences.

 

Heather FryerHeather Fryer, Ph.D., is the Fr. Henry W. Casper, SJ Professor in History at Creighton University, where she is a specialist in the twentieth-century American West. She is the author of Perimeters of Democracy: Inverse Utopias and the Wartime Social Landscape in the American West, Executive Editor of Peace and Change: a Journal of Peace Research, and served on the Historical Commission for the Cause for Canonization of Servant of God Fr. Edward J. Flanagan. Her most recent oral history project, the hour-long documentary Shinmachi: Stronger Than a Tsunami, is currently airing on PBS Hawaii as part of the series PBS Hawaii Presents.

Rebecca MurrayRebecca K. Murray, Ph.D., is a Professor of Criminal Justice and an Associate Dean of Social and Applied Sciences at Creighton University.  Her research areas include the urban environment and crime, systemic and organizational issues in the criminal justice system and victim advocacy.  Her work has been published in journals such as Crime and Delinquency and Contemporary Justice Review, and she has authored/co-authored 3 books. Through a federal grant from the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, she was able to create the Nebraska Victim Assistance Academy, which brings training to victim advocates across the state.

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