Deflections Make Church Look Worse

By Jim Spencer
Denver Post [Colorado]
February 15, 2006

The Colorado Catholic Conference presented the list like a smoking gun. It was hot all right. But not for the reason church representatives said.

The list held the names of Colorado public school employees whose licenses had been revoked in the past decade for sexual incidents involving children.

Church reps used the names to suggest public schools are as dangerous as Catholic sanctuaries when it comes to child sexual abuse. Then they claimed a bill that lets past victims of child sexual abuse sue private - but not public - employers of pedophiles is anti-Catholic bigotry.

"This legislation targets the Catholic Church," Colorado Catholic Conference executive director Tim Dore said during a seven-hour legislative committee hearing Monday. Child sexual abuse "is a societal problem."

The Achilles' heel of this share-the- blame game was written all over the 18-page list of public-school miscreants that CCC lawyer Martin Nussbaum proudly presented to members of the Senate State Affairs Committee.

"The Catholic Church fixed the problem (of child sexual abuse by priests and other church affiliates) by 1991," Nussbaum maintained in his testimony.

Nussbaum meant that allegations of rape and sodomy occurring after 1990 are few. By comparison, Nussbaum said, the list shows that public schools remain awash in child sexual abuse.

Even though the state needs to make it easier to sue public employers in cases of past child sexual abuse, the problem for the Catholic Church is the same.

It's not just about action. It's about reaction. What smokes on the list of 85 disciplined school employees or applicants the Catholic Conference gave senators is this: Of 58 Colorado public school employees who lost licenses for sexual misconduct with kids, 47 faced criminal charges and pleaded guilty or were found guilty. A 48th lost his license, although a sheriff found no evidence of physical contact or crime.

Sure, there's room to improve. In one case, a teacher who pleaded guilty to sexual assault only got suspended. And several sexual misconduct cases resulted in suspensions without criminal charges. Also, Nussbaum said, teaching revocation applies only to public schools in Colorado.

Still, the most important words on the list were the ones the conference, which represents the Denver archdiocese and the diocese in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, did not highlight. Phrases like "six years to life," "8 months in jail, probation for 3 years" and "register as a sex offender."

The sponsor of the bill being billed "anti-Catholic" is herself Catholic - Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald. Fitz-Gerald put the bigotry claim and the smear of public schools in context.

If the private sector had responded to claims of sex abuse as strongly as public schools, said Fitz-Gerald, there would be little need to open a two-year window for past child sex-abuse victims to sue their assailants and their assailants' employers.

Fitz-Gerald saw a need for legislation after reading in The Denver Post about alleged pedophilia by two Colorado priests. Some of the alleged victims of Leonard Abercrombie and Harold Robert White testified Monday. They talked of stone walls and obfuscation by their church.

It's the same for most child sex-abuse survivors, Ryan DiMaria testified. DiMaria, a 32-year-old lawyer from California, will sue anyone - public or private - who sexually abuses kids. He says he was sodomized in 1991 by the priest/principal of his Catholic high school. "We asked the district attorney to file criminal charges," DiMaria said in an interview. "My perpetrator was never charged."

"The coverup is what drives the high-dollar settlements," added DiMaria, who said he got $5.2 million from the Catholic Church in a civil case. "If you can't say it's not true, then you've got to deflect attention to the public schools."

But sometimes, deflecting makes you look worse.

Let's see the list of pedophile priests from Colorado and elsewhere who faced criminal charges for raping the bodies and souls of the dozens of victims who testified Monday for Fitz-Gerald's bill.

Then, we can talk about religious discrimination.

Jim Spencer's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 303-820-1771 or


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