Church Eyed Allegations
Results of Probe of Sex Abuse Claim Remain under Seal
By Kevin Vaughan
Rocky Mountain News [Denver]
June 10, 2004
Allegations that a former Catholic priest molested a Colorado teenager in the late 1960s were investigated by officials of the Archdiocese of Denver nearly two years ago.
But the results of that investigation - and whether the charges were deemed "credible" and therefore were turned over to law enforcement authorities - remain cloaked in the secrecy of privacy laws and church policy.
On Wednesday, the nation's largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse formally asked Bishops Charles Chaput of Denver and Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs to investigate the accusations against the former priest, who left the church, married and has lived quietly with his wife in the metro area for more than two decades.
Archdiocese officials declined to comment on whether the call from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests would lead to a new investigation.
"We can't comment on these matters, out of respect for the victim and the accused," said Sergio Gutierrez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Denver.
The man, who wrote a letter alleging that he was assaulted by the former priest, shot himself to death in the spring of 1991 after a long battle with alcohol and emotional problems.
The call for a new inquiry came on the same day that the alleged victim's cousin made letters public from two men who said that the same priest acted inappropriately with them on trips in the late 1960s. Both said that the priest gave them Playboy magazines to look at when they traveled with him in Colorado, and one said the clergyman gave him and other young boys alcohol.
Neither man, however, accused the former priest of sexual assault.
The former priest has no criminal record in Colorado, and a Rocky Mountain News search of court files could find no evidence that he has ever been sued.
It was years after the alleged assault that the priest left the church and married.
The family of the dead man has requested that his name not be published. The News has decided not to identify the priest, either.
Although the former priest has not spoken publicly about the charges, his wife, in an interview with the News, said that she had neither seen nor heard anything in her more than 20 years of marriage that would lend credence to the accusations. She described her husband as a "wonderful" companion, father to her children, and grandfather.
She said that her husband left the priesthood after experiencing a "kind of gradual disenchantment."
"It was just his own reasons, wanting to leave the priesthood," she said. "That was not uncommon. There were tons of men that left the priesthood at that time. They were disenchanted."
The allegations center on the late 1960s and the relationship between the former priest and a teenage boy in his Colorado parish whose father had recently died.
The teenager went on to struggle with alcohol and emotional problems throughout his adult life, and in 1991 shot himself to death after flying from Denver to a Midwestern city to visit his estranged girlfriend.
The former girlfriend told the News that she believed the alleged victim may have written the letter accusing the priest as a way to explain his alcoholism. She does not believe he was abused.
After his death, family members found the letter in his belongings, apparently written to the former priest accusing him of three separate episodes of sexual assault. The letter, which was not dated or signed, addressed the former priest by his first name.
That letter was rediscovered a few years ago by Donna Ballentine, the cousin of the dead man. She and her husband, Mark, have been pursuing information about the allegations ever since, and in July 2002 went to the Archdiocese of Denver to discuss them with Monsignor Thomas S. Fryar.
Gutierrez acknowledged that meeting. He said church protocols required that the allegations be investigated.
But Gutierrez would not comment on whether archdiocese officials found the allegations "credible," which would have triggered a report to law enforcement authorities. He also would not discuss whether the archdiocese has any records from the priest's time of service that would shed any light on the veracity of the allegations.
"We're not going to comment on what's in personnel records," Gutierrez said.
Mark and Donna Ballentine, however, do believe the allegations.
In recent months, Donna Ballentine discussed the case on a radio show and wrote a letter to the former priest.
The support group's national director, David Clohessy, issued a press release Tuesday before a planned protest outside the offices of the archdiocese. That protest was called off, though, amid concerns voiced by members of the alleged victim's family.
But Clohessy did not back off the charges.
And on Wednesday, he called for Chaput and Sheridan to "live up to the repeated promises you have made to protect children and be more open regarding sexual abuse allegations."
In a letter to the two bishops, Clohessy noted the charges from two other men that the former priest had provided them with adult magazines or booze, or both.
One of the men, Tom H. Fuchtman, wrote to Donna Ballentine last week to describe what he said he experienced with the former priest. On one trip, taken with the man who later killed himself, Fuchtman said that the former priest gave several boys Playboy magazines and a "pint of lime vodka."
The former priest, Fuchtman charged, took the boys to a reservoir to go swimming, but none would get in the water with him.
Later, in a hotel room, Fuchtman said the former priest and the alleged victim - who he said was drunk - spent time in the bathroom.
Fuchtman said he believed the alleged victim "thought I knew what really happened, and although we were best friends and shared EVERYTHING else, we never discussed it."
The second man, John R. Montoro, wrote to Ballentine that the former priest was like a "father figure" to the alleged victim. Montoro also said the former priest gave him and others a "briefcase" of Playboy magazines to read.
Neither the former priest nor his wife could be reached after the release of the letters.
She said earlier, however, that she believed her husband was being harassed. She also said she and her husband had consulted an attorney and were considering whether to sue the Ballentines.
The Ballentines, who agreed to be identified for this story, said they sympathized with the pain the charges had caused her.
"We totally understand her doing this," Mark Ballentine said. "She loves this man. Donna and I deeply regret her suffering. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations in life where other innocent people are going to suffer. But we feel we must seek the truth."
He also said that, in a way, he would welcome a lawsuit from the former priest and his wife.
"It actually might be the best thing," he said. "It might be the best way, the quickest way, to get to the bottom of the whole sordid affair."
Clohessy, director of the support group, said he was more concerned about potential victims of sexual abuse than about the possibility that a former priest could be falsely accused.
"I can't imagine too many things more horrible than being falsely accused of abuse," said Clohessy, who said he was molested as a boy by a minister. "But I don't have to imagine something that is dramatically worse, and that is being molested as a child by a powerful, revered priest.
"And while it is hard for an adult to repair his reputation, it is infinitely harder for children, maybe dozens of children, we don't know, to repair their emotional and spiritual lives."
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