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  Springs Diocese Removes Priest
Abuse Occurred before Ordination

By Eric Gorski
The Gazette
May 22, 2002

A priest serving two small parishes on the eastern plains has been removed for admitting to sexual misconduct with a minor 30 years ago, before he was a priest, church officials said Tuesday.

The Rev. Thomas Kloppenborg, 51, served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Cheyenne Wells and St. Augustine church in Kit Carson for the past nine years. The Cheyenne County congregations, which total 165 families, are the easternmost parishes in the Colorado Springs Diocese.

There have been no allegations of abuse against Kloppenborg during his time in Colorado, Colorado Springs Bishop Richard Hanifen said in a letter read at the two parishes Sunday.

A member of the Vicentian religious order, Kloppenborg was recalled to St. Louis last week, where he was given a desk job, said Paul Zemitzsch, a spokesman for the order's Midwest Province in suburban St. Louis. Kloppenborg will not be assigned to parish work or be allowed to work with children for the foreseeable future, Zemitzsch said.

The removal of Kloppenborg is the first of a priest in the Colorado Springs Diocese since the priest sex abuse scandal began sweeping the nation this year.

The incident came to light after the head of the Midwest Province, in response to the scandal, ordered a review of the congregation's files, Zemitzsch said. It is the only incident the review uncovered, he said.

He said the incident, which came to church officials' attention because Kloppenborg reported it, took place when Kloppenborg was in his late teens - while he was studying to become a priest but before his ordination. The minor involved was a boy in his midteens, Zemitzsch said.

He said it is unclear how often relations took place between the two. Zemitzsch said police were not called.

The Vincentians' Midwest provincial decided removing Kloppenborg is appropriate given the more stringent standards for priests because of the scandal, Zemitzsch said.

"Obviously, the incident was extremely unfortunate," Zemitzsch said. "The measures taken did not occur without a great amount of thought and consideration."

He said Kloppenborg told church authorities in St. Louis he had no sexual relations with minors in Colorado.

Hanifen agreed Kloppenborg should be removed. The diocese has a policy that forbids the employment of priests and other staff who have been credibly accused of sex abuse, said Sister Peg Maloney, a diocese spokeswoman.

"It's pretty rigorous right now, and for good reason," Maloney said Tuesday. "People are concerned about their children. That means we have to throw a pretty wide net to make sure children aren't harmed."

The priest was to begin a new assignment in July: a six-year hitch as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Salida.

Now, the priest-depleted diocese is working to fill that position and find priests to fill in at the two Cheyenne County parishes until a new priest, the Rev. Khanh Pham Nguyen, arrives this summer.

Maloney said Kloppenborg was well liked among his parishioners, served on the diocese's worship commission and helped with a liturgical conference here in January.

"I know the people are really hurt and they're praying for him," she said.

Zemitzsch said Kloppenborg grew up in Moline, Ill., and attended seminary in Perryville, Mo. His assignments at the eastern plains parishes were his first as a pastor, he said.

Religious order priests serve in parishes across the country; there are two other Vincentian priests in the Colorado Springs Diocese. Most parish priests locally do not belong to orders but instead are diocese employees.

- Eric Gorski covers religion and nonprofit groups and may be reached at 636-0304 or gorski@gazette.com

 
 

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