At least 166 children were sexually abused by 43 Catholic priests in Colorado over the past 70 years, according to an independent investigator’s report released Wednesday. The state’s three dioceses, according to the report, spent decades covering it up.
“The numbers and stories are painful,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told reporters during a press conference in Denver Wednesday. “It’s a dark chapter.”
Weiser said the state is continuing to investigate the church and is seeking additional information from anyone who has experienced abuse. The state is also managing a church-funded program to compensate victims of abuse.
Speaking to members of the church, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila released a video addressing the report. He said more victims are likely to come forward in the days ahead.
“I am truly sorry for the pain and hurt that this abuse has caused,” Aquila said. “My sincere hope is that this report provides some small measure of justice and healing.”
The 263-page report, which names the priests involved in allegations, highlights not only stories of sexual abuse, trauma and suicide, but also a culture in which allegations were ignored and covered up. On average, the report found it took 19.5 years before a Colorado diocese took action in response to receiving allegations that a priest was sexually abusing children.
“Even counting only the prior notices documented in files, our review indicates that over 50% of Colorado’s clergy child sex abuse victims were abused after the relevant diocese was already aware these priests were abusers,” the report said.
The report found that Harold Robert White and Leonard Abercrombie account for most of the sexual abuses. According to the report, Abercrombie, who has since died, had 18 known victims, but “the full scope of Abercrombie’s sex crimes against children is not known.” White, also dead, had 63 known victims and the report said: “When he had sexually abused enough children at a parish that scandal threatened to erupt, the Denver Archdiocese moved him to a new one geographically distant enough that White was not known there.”
The report did not find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by priests within the current statute of limitations. The most recent allegation occurred when a Denver priest sexually abused 4 children in 1998, according to the report. But the investigator acknowledged there may be more recent cases. “Our review revealed flaws in the Colorado Dioceses’ records and practices that make it impossible to honestly and reliably conclude that no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998 — or that no Colorado Roman Catholic priests in active ministry have sexually abused children or are sexually abusing them.”
An agreement between former Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and the leaders of the Archdiocese of Denver, the Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Diocese of Pueblo led to the independent investigations by former U.S. Attorney Robert Troyer. The report was based on internal church records and interviews with victims.
People who have experienced sexual assault responded to the report by calling for more accountability.
“Since the Catholic Church was not subject to a subpoena and were able to choose what information to share with the investigator, my gut tells me this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Michael Carpino with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a statement. Carpino, who said he was a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, thanked the attorneys general and the investigator for their work. “But I urge them to dig deeper to uncover cases the Church could be hiding especially within the Orders of priest, nuns, monks and others that were not part of this investigation.”
Others said the report is a reason to look at other organizations where children have been sexually abused.
“This is hardly a shock. In fact, I think this reflects a church-controlled under-reporting of the problem. It’s time to hold the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, U.S. Olympic Committee and all other irresponsible institutions fully accountable for harboring abusers in their midst,” said Jenny Stith, executive director of the WINGS Foundation, a victim support organization.
The report makes several recommendations for how to avoid future abuses in the church. Currently, complaints are dealt with by the church. The report calls for the creation or contracting of an independent investigation process. It also calls for comprehensive electronic record-keeping, training, and victim assistance, among other recommendations.
Archbishop Aquila said the archdiocese in Denver would adopt all of the recommendations.