Local Says He Was Molested by Priest
Pastor Who Is under Investigation Was in Aspen from 1978-81
By John Colson
The Aspen Times [Aspen CO]
August 4, 2005
A former priest who is being investigated over allegations that he molested minors in various Colorado parishes has been accused of molesting at least one boy in Aspen while working here.
That alter boy, who is an adult working in Aspen today and asked not to be identified, confirmed this week that the Rev. Harold Robert White came to his house one day while working as pastor at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen and "inappropriate behavior" took place.
"I'd rather leave the details out of it," said the man, who was in his late teens at the time the incident took place.
The victim, who still is a Catholic, said he told his parents immediately and that his parents talked with other parishioners about the matter then contacted the Denver Archdiocese to report the incident.
"He was gone within the week," the man said of White. "I never saw him again. For me, it's never been a big deal. I'm not going to sue the church for millions."
He said he has not suffered the kind of mental trauma reported by other victims of such incidents and that he has never undergone counseling about it.
White, who served as a priest for about three decades, was in Aspen from 1978 to 1981, according to a timeline published in The Denver Post last week.
Asked if he knew whether others said White molested them during his time here, the man said, "I've heard a story of one other. It never really went anywhere. But it certainly was inappropriate behavior, for a priest or any adult male."
When told that White came here from a church in Minturn, and that his alleged sexual predations there were being investigated, the Aspen man said, "The thing that bothers me the most is ... was he moved out of Minturn because of this?"
If so, he said, "The church has a bigger problem ... the fact that they knew about this. Why was he continuously put in locations where this could happen?"
Still, he said, he believes the church as an organization is working on the problem of priest misconduct and is "straightening it out."
The Archdiocese, contacted several times by The Aspen Times, refused to comment on whether complaints had ever been lodged against White during his time here, or on any other aspect of the investigation against the former pastor.
Two recent articles in The Denver Post detailed accusations against White by former parishioners from such diverse Colorado parishes as Minturn, Sterling and Colorado Springs. The accusations came from adult men who said they were fondled by White when they were boys attending churches where he was either assistant pastor or pastor. He came here after serving in parishes in eastern Colorado, Colorado Springs and Minturn, according to the Post.
One man, Brandon Trask (he grew up under the name of Jesse Gonzales but changed it a few years ago) said that while he was a boy in Minturn, White lived across the street. One day, he said, White invited Trask to go to the hot springs pool in Glenwood Springs. According to Trask, he expected it to be a group outing but it turned out to be "just the two of us."
At the pool, while the two were in the water, Trask told a reporter, White reached into his swimming trunks and fondled him. When Trask struggled to get away, according to the story, White held him close.
When contacted at the Denver assisted living complex where he now lives, White reportedly denied knowing Trask or recalling anything about the incident.
White reportedly worked at 11 parishes over the course of 33 years with the church, according to the article. He was a priest until 1993, when he was "reduced to laity" by an order from the Vatican, meaning he was forced out of the priesthood, according to the Post.
Trask, who told the Post he had been traumatized by the experience and was only now able to talk about it with others, has submitted his allegations to the Denver Archdiocese for investigation.
The Denver Post reported that seven other men in various parishes around the state have come forward with similar tales of molestation by White following publication of the story about Trask. The men all are in their late 40s or 50s, according to the reports.
The Post also reported that the Denver Archdiocese was told "at least three times" of similar allegations against White, starting in the 1960s. Once such report was confirmed by the Rev. James E. Kane, White's supervisor when he was assistant pastor at St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Kane said a family came to him to complain that their son had been molested by White in the "middle to late 1960s."
The current pastor at St. Mary, Father Michael O'Brien, said White's years at the church were "way before my time. I was ordained in 2000" and that he had heard nothing untoward about White's years here.
"I don't know anything about him ... all I know is what I've read in The Denver Post," he said.
Attempts to reach other pastors who followed White in Aspen were not successful. Archdiocese spokespersons Jenny Simon and Sergio Gutierrez both said the Archdiocese policy is not to comment on sexual misconduct cases, and they declined to say if there were any allegations regarding White or any other priests who have served in Aspen.
Some longtime parishioners either declined to comment on the matter or said they had not heard any such rumors regarding White at the church. "I got along fine with Father White," said one man who requested anonymity.
"It's like a big family," said former parishioner John Callahan, referring to the local parish. "There's a skeleton in the closet here and there."
Callahan, who acted as the church commentator, reading parts of each week's Mass starting in 1965 and ending "a few years ago," said he was aware of recent articles in The Denver Post concerning allegations that White molested young boys in his parishes.
When asked if he had heard of any similar behavior by White while he was pastor at St. Mary, Callahan reluctantly admitted, "There were rumors. I'm going to leave it at that."
Although not eager to talk about the subject with a reporter, Callahan conceded that reports about errant priests are important news and agreed that "it would always be best for things to come out in the open. The Archdiocese is doing an investigation of [White]. I'm happy to see that. I wish they had not been quite so slow in their investigation."