Sex Allegations Follow Ex-Priest to Denver Area
Man's Abuse Claims Shock Neighbors
By Eric Gorski and Sean Kelly
December 22, 2003
The Catholic clergy abuse scandal belatedly spilled into a Denver-area neighborhood Sunday when a 50- year-old man in a business suit handed out fliers warning residents that a "serial molester/predator" lives in their midst at a retirement home for priests.
Kevin O'Connor is one of 13 men whose claims of sex abuse at the hands of the Rev. John J. "Jack" Campbell have been found to be credible, according to the regional office of the Jesuit religious order, to which Campbell belongs.
O'Connor said he confronted the retired priest, now 83, on Saturday night with the anguish he says was inflicted on him starting more than 30 years ago in St. Louis. O'Connor said he received an apology from Campbell, who lives with 20 other men at the Xavier Jesuit Residence Center, just north of the Regis University campus.
The Rev. Phil Steele, executive assistant to the provincial of the Jesuits of the Missouri Province, which includes Colorado, said Campbell has not been accused of abusing anyone in Colorado. He has lived in Denver under supervision since 1991, Steele said.
Steele said Campbell has not been allowed contact with minors since 1987 and was stripped of his priestly duties in 1993. As a Jesuit, Campbell is under the jurisdiction of that community, not the archdiocese.
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said Sunday he did not personally know about Campbell's background until the Jesuits contacted the archdiocese in the past six weeks to say "something was coming" regarding one of the retired priests. Presumably, the call was prompted by O'Connor making his story public.
Steele said the Denver archdiocese also was made aware of Campbell's history under the leadership of Chaput's predecessor, Francis Stafford.
Chaput said last year there are no known abusers serving in the northern Colorado archdiocese, a statement he reiterated Sunday.
The archbishop said he was hesitant to speak in detail about a case of which he knows little.
"I can understand why people would be concerned, if (Campbell) has a history of abuse, with serial abuse," Chaput said. "But I also have confidence that he was being supervised appropriately, and I trust that he was."
O'Connor, who lives in Charlottesville, Va., went public with his story in October after settling his sex-abuse claim for $185,000.
About $575,000 in settlements and doctors' bills have been paid to people who alleged Campbell sexually abused them, Steele said. More complaints from St. Louis have since been brought forward. The retired priest has not been charged criminally.
O'Connor said Sunday that Campbell molested him repeatedly before and after his 1972 graduation from St. Louis University High School, where the priest had done counseling.
He said Campbell was trusted by students and parents and was very convincing.
"I was very conflicted," O'Connor said. "I have to say there was some ambivalence, but I trusted him. ... He's actually a nice guy."
In their half-hour meeting Saturday, O'Connor said, he found Campbell "very cogent, very intelligent."
"He said, 'I apologize to you, Kevin,"' O'Connor said.
O'Connor said he accepted Campbell's apology, which he considered an admission of guilt.
"You don't apologize unless you've done something wrong," O'Connor said.
Campbell has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations against him, saying that he does not remember any abuse, Steele said. Steele said the Jesuit provincial believes O'Connor.
O'Connor said the abuse caused him to give up his dream of becoming a doctor and led him to drinking and drug abuse. He said he is a recovering alcoholic and has been in the real estate and restaurant business.
Campbell was removed from St. Louis University High School in December 1987 after a sexual-abuse allegation was found to be credible, Steele said. Campbell was restricted from having contact with minors, from counseling and from hearing confessions, Steele said.
In 1991, the Jesuits moved Campbell to Denver, "not necessarily to hide him," Steele said, but to separate him from St. Louis, where he had many contacts.
"We felt he needed a change in geography," Steele said.
Initially, Campbell lived with other Jesuit priests at Carroll Hall on the Regis campus in northwest Denver, a choice Steele said would not have been made today in light of steps the church has taken to reduce the risk of abuse. The Xavier retirement home opened in 1993.
Campbell was not assigned to a parish in Denver but may have filled in and said Mass for priests who were away or ill, Steele said.
The Denver archdiocese would have needed to approve such an arrangement first.
Chaput said Sunday that to his knowledge, that did not take place. But, Chaput added, he would need to check the archdiocese's records.
In 1993, after more allegations from Campbell's ministry in St. Louis, he was stripped of priestly duties, including his authority to say Mass publicly, Steele said.
Steele said that although Campbell has received treatment in the past, the Xavier center is a home for senior priests, not a treatment center. Steele said that to his knowledge, Campbell is the only man staying in the home who has been accused of sex abuse.
Barbara Dorris, national outreach coordinator with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, criticized the decision to put Campbell in a home in a residential neighborhood. She questioned whether he was being supervised as closely as he should be.
"A pedophile molests until the day he dies," she said.
Steele said that as far as he knows, Campbell is not allowed to leave the home by himself and probably does not leave much at all. Steele said Campbell is elderly but has no health problems.
"I am satisfied that the supervision is enough," Steele said. "I pray that I'm not proven wrong, but I believe the fact we have not had even the hint of allegation of anyone in Denver tends to support our belief that supervision has been adequate."
Some neighbors who were home when O'Connor distributed his pamphlets Sunday said they were shocked to learn of the accusations.
"It upsets me very much," said Jan Peterson, who lives next door. "I'm afraid for my grandchildren. I'm afraid for all the kids who come up and down this street. They should not have put him here."
Steele said that Jesuit officials would take seriously any neighbors' concerns.
"We hope he will be able to continue to live there," Steele said. "But it may not be possible."
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