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Bishop Miege High School defends new president after parents raise concern

Phil Baniewicz.PNG
Posted at 5:17 PM, Aug 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-02 23:19:25-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Officials at Bishop Miege High School in Roeland Park are defending the hiring of the school's new president following concerns by the school community over the president's involvement in a sexual abuse civil lawsuit in 2005.

The hiring and subsequent questions by parents about the process prompted KSHB 41 I-Team's Sarah Plake to learn more about his past and why parents at the school felt uncomfortable.

In a June 30 letter to the Bishop Miege community, the Catholic high school announced it had hired Phil Baniewicz as its new president.

The letter provided background on Baniewicz's past. He was most recently President at Maur Hill-Mount Academy in Atchison, Kansas.

"Phil Baniewicz has been an exceptional leader for Maur Hill-Mount Academy. Mr. Baniewicz is a man with a deep love for Jesus and his church," Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann said in the letter. "I am delighted that he will continue to use those leadership skills to serve Catholic schools as he begins his new responsibilities as the President of Bishop Miege High School."

Following the announcement, Baniewicz wrote his own introductory letter to Miege families in mid-July. It was in that letter where families first learned from Baniewicz that he went through a "false allegation." Details of the allegations were not part of the school's initial announcement about Baniewicz's hiring.

Baniewicz said someone made up a story about him and that “he had to endure the persecution.”

While he didn't provide specifics of the allegation in his letter, the KSHB 41 I-Team learned the allegation was a reference to his being named as a defendant in a sexual abuse civil lawsuit in 2005 when he served as a youth minister for Life Teen. Baniewicz is one of the founding leaders of Life Teen, which is based out of St. Timothy’s Catholic parish in Mesa, Arizona.

The victim who filed the lawsuit said the sexual abuse happened in the mid-1980s, when he was a teenage minor at the parish.

The victim accused Baniewicz and a priest Baniewicz was closely affiliated with of sexually abusing him more than once. The victim accused another priest of watching and knowing about the abuse but doing nothing.

The case was set to go to trial in 2007, but the Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Phoenix, also a defendant, agreed to settle the lawsuit and the victim dropped the suit.

The alleged abuse never led to any criminal charges.

"I learned through the experience that when evil attacks, God's grace abounds even more," Baniewicz said in his letter to Meige parents.

But at least one of those parents contacted KSHB 41's I-Team looking for more answers about Baniewicz's past.

The I-Team confirmed that the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Bishop Miege High School were and are aware of the allegations. A spokesperson with the Archdiocese said the allegations “were discussed openly by Mr. Baniewicz during the hiring process.” The spokesperson said Baniewicz “has emphatically denied any allegations of wrongdoing throughout.”

Prompted by questions from the KSHB 41 I-team, a subsequent e-mail to families on Aug. 1 went into additional detail about the process the church and school used in the hiring of Baniewicz.

Through its vetting process, which included talking with former employers who also looked into the allegations, the Miege administration said they concluded Baniewicz was falsely accused. The email also said Baniewicz is in compliance with the Archdiocese’s code of conduct.

"Members of the Board of Trustees at Miege conducted the interviews and reviewed his employment history; the allegations and the lawsuit, which are of public record, were a part of that process. Prior to that, Benedictine College had also done its due diligence before hiring Mr. Baniewicz in 2006. The college had learned that not only had no charges been filed re the allegations, but that an investigation had been done of the matter by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office after the allegations surfaced.

"An extensive independent inquiry by a private investigator hired by the board of directors of the organization he worked for was also conducted, and Mr. Baniewicz was reinstated quickly at its conclusion. Ultimately, according to the Archdiocese, Miege’s Board of Trustees made the decision to hire Baniewicz over other candidates who applied. The board selected Baniewicz and submitted the selection to the Archdiocese for approval."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) reached out to the I-Team about Baniewicz’s background, saying they heard about it from a concerned member of the community.

David Clohessy, SNAP’s director for Missouri, says Archbishop Naumann should be more transparent.

"If he's convinced this man is innocent, let's have an open public meeting and let him tell his side of it. Let people ask questions," Clohessy said. "That seems like such a minimal request, especially of a church official who has pledged over and over that he'll be transparent and open when it comes to abuse cases. "

People connected to Miege tell KSHB 41 say they’re concerned with this new information, but they are not comfortable talking on camera.

“The [Aug. 1] letter does little to ease my concern," a parent who requested anonymity said in a statement to KSHB 41 News. "It’s very important that we know who they are spending time with. I’m not sure what we will do with this new information.”

The school said Baniewicz plans to meet with faculty on Aug. 15 and with students on Aug. 23.

We reached out to Baniewicz directly for comment, and he has not responded yet. We’ve also reached out to the victim who filed the lawsuit and haven’t heard back.

Editor's Note: Sarah Plake graduated from Bishop Miege High School.