WASHINGTON (CNS) — New findings in an investigation into clergy sex abuse in Colorado’s Catholic dioceses show substantiated claims that an additional nine Catholic priests abused minors decades ago.
Released Dec. 1, the findings are in a supplemental report from the lead investigator, former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, who continued to look into cases as more survivors came forward after the release of his initial report in October 2019.
“Importantly, the additional substantiated allegations continue to fit the same historical pattern from the first report,” Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila said in a statement. “Over 85% of the incidents occurred more than 40 years ago during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and none of the substantiated incidents occurred in the last 20 years.”
“There are also no substantiated allegations against any current priest in active ministry,” he emphasized.
One of the nine newly identified priests is the late Father Charles “C.B.” Woodrich. Known to most as “Father Woody,” the popular pastor of Holy Ghost Church in downtown Denver was a leader in outreach to the homeless in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
For 15 years, from 1972 to 1987, he also was associate publisher and editor of the Denver Catholic Register, which was the archdiocesan weekly newspaper.
On Oct. 23, 2019, a report on the findings of an independent review of clergy abuse cases in Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses from 1950 to 2019 showed that 166 children were abused by 43 priests statewide.
It found that at least 127 children were victimized by 22 priests in the Denver Archdiocese; at least 36 children were victimized by 19 priests in the Pueblo Diocese; and at least three children were victimized by two priests in the Colorado Springs Diocese. The Dec. 1 report identified 46 new victims.
The new findings bring the total number of known abusive priests in Colorado to 52 — some of whom are still alive — and the number of child victims to 212. The report included new allegations against 16 priests who were previously identified.
In his statement, Archbishop Aquila said nearly half of the total incidents were committed by one man, Harold White. According to The Denver Post, then-Father White left public ministry in 1993. He was defrocked in 2004; he died of an apparent heart attack Nov. 14, 2006, at age 73.
Seventy percent of all incidents were committed by White and three other former priests, Leonard Abercrombie, who left Colorado in 1972 and died in 1994; John Holloway, who died in the ’80s; and Neil Hewitt, who left the priesthood in 1980 and later got married.
“I offer no excuses for these sins of the past, or the historical failure to respond to allegations against Harold White and others, but the context of when the abuse happened is important,” Archbishop Aquila said.
“We hope and pray that this independent review and reparations process over the last two years has provided a measure of justice and healing for the survivors who came forward and shared their stories,” said a joint statement from the archbishop, Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Bishop Stephen J. Berg of Pueblo and Denver Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez.
“We remain heart-broken by the pain they have endured, we again offer our deepest apologies for the past failures of the church, and we promise that we will always pray for continued healing for them and their families,” they said.
“We as bishops continue to be willing to meet personally with survivors when they make the request. Even those these specific programs have concluded, we will continue to work with and support anyone who comes forward,” they added. “We also hope that this process has demonstrated our commitment to continuing to enhance and strengthen our child-protection policies so that the sins of the past do not repeat themselves.”
Besides Father Woodrich, who died in 1991, four of the newly named priests also served in the Denver Archdiocese: Fathers Kenneth Funk, Daniel Kelleher, James Moreno and Gregory Smith. Four served in the Pueblo Diocese: Msgr. Marvin Kapushion, who died April 7 at age 89, and Fathers Duane Repola, Carlos Trujillo and Joseph Walsh.
Church officials said Father Woodrich’s name and the names of the other priests identified in the reports would be removed from any honorary designation, including buildings and programs. A homeless shelter named Haven of Hope that was named for Father Woodrich — it was founded after his death — already has been redesignated as the Haven of Hope-Jay Gould Center, after one of its founders.
Father Woodrich, who is accused of abusing at least three boys in the late 1970s and in the 1980s, ran a sandwich line for many years at Holy Ghost Church, and in 1982, during a severe blizzard, he opened its doors to let the homeless sleep in the pews.
That effort, which garnered national media attention, led him to found with another Denver priest what is now known as Samaritan House. The first shelter opened in 1982 in an old high school building and in 1986 the archdiocese completed construction on a new structure.
The process of reviewing clergy abuse in Colorado’s Catholic dioceses was initiated in the fall of 2018 by then-Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.
In February 2019, at a news conference with her successor, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, Archbishop Aquila, on behalf of the Colorado bishops, said the Denver Archdiocese and the Colorado Springs and Pueblo dioceses would voluntarily open their records to an independent review led by Troyer.
The three dioceses also announced they would fund an independent, voluntary program to compensate victims of abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred. A separate victims’ support service was created to assist victims/survivors with the reparations program and connect them with resources for future care.
According to Troyer’s new report, the abuse reparations program to date has paid $7.31 million to 77 survivors of sexual abuse.
“All people who participated in the reparations program had to report their allegation to law enforcement, and their allegations were independently reported by the dioceses as well,” the Catholic bishops said in their joint statement. “Therefore, we are confident that there are no priests in active ministry with known substantiated allegations against them.”
The Colorado Sun reported that Weiser “is not seeking additional power from the legislature or governor to open a criminal investigation into child sex abuse in Colorado’s Catholic dioceses, citing, in part, budget restraints because of the coronavirus crisis.”
The newspaper noted that most of these sex abuse cases are not likely to be “criminally prosecutable”; the state no longer has a statute of limitations for child sex assault applying to past cases.
“I recognize there isn’t one program or dollar amount that can make up for the trauma that many have been through in their lives,” the attorney general said in a written statement, “but my sincerest hope is that this unique Colorado program has allowed survivors of sexual abuse by a priest to take one more step on the path to healing and recovery.”
“We believe,” the Colorado bishops said, “the comprehensive review of our policies, and the independent and nonadversarial reparations process, are models that can and should be duplicated to further address the societal-wide issue of sexual abuse of minors.
“We agree with the attorney general that other youth-serving institutions could consider using a similar public review and reparations program to address this issue.”
In a separate statement Dec. 1, Bishop Sheridan said he was encouraged Troyer’s supplemental report found no new credible allegations against priests of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
He was “also heartened” by Troyer’s “assessment that our diocese has made great strides in implementing his recommendations,” including creating an independent investigative team, putting in place an online intake system for reporting abuse and appointing two victim advocates.
“None of these positive developments can in any way diminish the pain endured by victims of clergy sexual abuse,” Bishop Sheridan said. “However, they represent a step forward in ensuring that the sins of the past are not repeated.”
He added, “I call on all the faithful to join me in praying for the healing of abuse victims, and I promise to do everything in my power to uphold the safety of our children and young people.”