Sex-Abuse Lawsuits Multiply
Three More Accuse White of Molestation
By Eric Gorski
Denver Post [Denver CO]
August 24, 2005
Three more men filed lawsuits Tuesday alleging that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver covered up for former priest Harold Robert White despite being warned that he had been accused of molesting boys.
At a news conference across from archdiocesan headquarters, Brandon Trask's hands shook as he recounted how difficult it was to break 30 years of silence and publicly accuse White. He and another man, identified only as John Doe, filed a complaint in Denver District Court against the archdiocese for unspecified damages.
Earlier Tuesday, a Miami lawyer filed a $10 million lawsuit on behalf of 52-year-old Greg Roberts of Fort Collins. The former altar boy says he was 14 or 15 when White molested him at church and a social hall in the mid-1960s.
So far, five men have filed lawsuits against the archdiocese for its handling of White, who in less than a month has become the archdiocese's biggest challenge involving clergy sex abuse since the U.S. church was struck by scandal in 2002.
"We take these suits very, very seriously," said Fran Maier, chancellor of the Denver archdiocese. "We take the claims seriously and the people behind them very seriously. We're committed to the safety of our families, and we are also committed to pursuing the life of the church, and one is not going to interfere with the other."
The 49-year-old Trask, of Long Beach, Calif., was the first to accuse White in a July 26 story in The Denver Post. Since then, an additional 15 men - including Roberts - have told the newspaper that the charismatic priest molested them. The John Doe named in Tuesday's lawsuit brings the number of White accusers to 17.
The archdiocese was told about abuse allegations against White as early as the 1960s but continued to move him from parish to parish, The Post has found.
In an interview last month, White, 72, said he did not remember Trask and refused to answer whether he had ever been accused of molesting minors.
White, whose last known address was in Denver, was removed from public ministry in 1993 and stripped of the Roman collar last year for undisclosed reasons.
The news conference Tuesday included Trask; Tom Kolde way, who filed suit against White last week; their lawyer, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn.; and representatives of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a support and advocacy group.
As the event was about to start, Koldeway began crying and stepped away from the TV cameras. Trask, a gay artist from California, hugged Koldeway, a flooring contractor who grew up on a Sterling farm.
Trask alleges White molested him in the mid-1970s when White was a priest in Min turn. Trask said he couldn't tell his parents, both devout Catholics, because he was taught priests were next to God.
"He's gotten away with it for 30 years, and the church knew about this," Trask said. "They protected him."
The Trask and Doe lawsuits accuse the archdiocese of negligence and fraud, citing evidence that the archdiocese knew White was a problem but did not take proper steps.
Anderson called on the archdiocese to open its "secret files" on White and reveal the names of every known offender, dead or alive.
In 2003, the archdiocese reported receiving credible allegations against seven priests involving 21 victims since 1950.
Koldeway said that during a meeting with archdiocesan officials in 2003, he was rebuffed when he asked for more information about White's past.
"I'm fully convinced they have a file as thick as Webster's Dictionary on Father White," Koldeway said.
Few dioceses have disclosed the names of credibly accused priests, and it's usually under threat of legal action. The Denver archdiocese has said it will not release its personnel files.
The Boston archdiocese unsuccessfully fought to keep sealed internal church records about accused priests that had been filed in response to lawsuits.
The lawsuits against White - and others in the works - will at least initially focus on whether the statute of limitations for the claims has passed.
The complaints argue that the statute should be extended, either because the archdiocese fraudulently concealed what it knew about White or because the plaintiff only recently realized the extent of injuries caused by the abuse.
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