Report about sexual abuse highlights priest who worked in Aspen
By Rick Carroll
October 28, 2019
Of the 43 priests identified in a report last week by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office for sexually abusing minors, one of them assigned to St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen over 40 years ago once asked not to be transferred when allegations against him surfaced.
Father Robert Harold White “was the most prolific known clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history” and his career is “a microcosm of virtually all the failures we found elsewhere in our review of the Colorado Dioceses’ child sex abuse history,” the report said.
Another priest, Father Rafael Jairo Calle, was temporarily assigned to St. Stephen Parish in Glenwood Springs in 1997 when he, too, was investigated for two reported incidences of sexual abuse during his brief time in Glenwood.
The report was written by former Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer and covers sexual abuse by Catholic priests from 1950 to 2019 in the state. While at least 166 children were abused by priests during that time frame, the state’s three dioceses, who were aware of the abuse, did little to address the allegations they instead suppressed.
Though the 263-page report noted that following 1998 no allegations or abuse by priests in Colorado were alleged, there is no way to tell if that is actually the case.
It notes that Calle was an extern priest from Ecuador to the Denver Archdiocese in early 1997 and was temporarily assigned to St. Stephen’s in Glenwood Springs that March. That’s when the report says he abused two boys ages 12 and 17.
“The Denver Archdiocese appears to have received no reports of Calle engaging in sexual misconduct with children before he abused Victim #1,” according to the report. “In fact, it appears the Denver Archdiocese vetted Calle with his archdiocese in Ecuador and with the Archdiocese of Salt Lake [City] before allowing him to serve in Colorado … both endorsed him.”
Following the second report of abuse, the Denver Archdiocese immediately confronted Calle, “and he did not deny abusing Victim #2; instead, he immediately fled Colorado.”
Meanwhile, the case with White was emblematic of the church’s failure to address rampant priest abuse, the report said.
“The Denver Archdiocese was frequently dishonest with White’s victims, their parishioners, and the public about his child sex abuse and the Denver Archdiocese’s knowledge of it,” the report said. “White’s file reveals the Denver Archdiocese did all this for decades, deploying euphemism and secrecy to protect itself. His file also reveals that broad, deep and permanent harm to children was the consequence.”
White was a priest at St. Mary in Aspen from 1978 and 1981, assigned there by the Denver Archdiocese, one of three in Colorado. Ordained in 1960, he served as a priest at four churches, including St. Patrick’s in Minturn from 1970 to ’78, before his transfer to Aspen.
“When he had sexually abused enough children at a parish that scandal threatened to erupt, the Denver Archdiocese moved him to a new one geographically distant enough that White was not known there,” the report said. “The Denver Archdiocese repeated this cycle at least six times and never once restricted his ministry, or removed him from ministry, or sent him off for genuine psychiatric evaluation and care. The Denver Archdiocese never did a thorough and independent investigation of his behavior, and it never voluntarily reported him to the police.”
The Denver Archdiocese eventually removed White, who admitted to 70 instances of sexual abuse, in 1993. He was formally laicized in 2004.
The report notes that White had at least two victims at St. Mary Parish, one he fondled at least twice and another at least three times. Both victims were boys younger than 18.
The two victims reported the abuse to the diocese in 1981. The report notes that White denied one allegation, played down the nature of another, and protested a transfer from Aspen.
“After White offered a superficial denial of the first incident, the Denver Archbishop pronounced, ‘The incident is to be forgotten,’” according to the report. “After the second incident was reported, however, the Archbishop considered ‘reassigning’ White. The archbishop was advised that if he did so he should impose two conditions on White: no work with youth, and regular counseling attendance. The Archbishop was also advised White should be told, ‘This is your last chance. If you fail again, this is the end.’
“When told the archbishop was considering reassignment, White begged to stay in Aspen as pastor at St. Mary Parish, arguing that the allegations had not created scandal and more scandal would result from a transfer.”
Two months later, the Denver Archdiocese sent White to the Albuquerque Villa in New Mexico where he received evaluation and treatment from July to December 1981. By January 1982, he was reassigned as assistant pastor at Good Shepherd Parish in Denver “without any restrictions on his ministry or faculties,” the report said. He also went on to work for Colorado parishes in Wheat Ridge, Grand Lake, Steamboat Springs, Eagle and again in Minturn.
The report notes that from 1969 to ’75 and from June 2000 through now, Colorado law mandated clergy to report child sex abuse to law enforcement.
“However, from 2010 to present, clergy have not had to call the authorities if the victim is an adult when he or she reports and the abuser is no longer in a position of trust with children,” the report said.
In August 2005, a monsignor from the Archdiocese of Denver contacted the Aspen Police Department over allegations of White’s sexual abuse on a child at the Aspen church from early 1976 through 1979, according to police records provided to The Aspen Times on Friday.
The Denver Post profiled that same victim, Christian Gamblin, around the same time his allegations of abuse were reported to the APD. Gamblin alleged in the Post article that White, in 1979 in Aspen, “plied him with rum and Coke and performed sex acts on him at the parish rectory.” Gamblin was 17 at the time.
The statute of limitations, however, had expired on this type of crime, according to Aspen police records from August 2005.
“After statute review and discussion with (then-assistant district attorney Andrew Heyl), any crimes where the victim was less than 15 years old, and occurring before 1988 would be outside the statute of limitations. Any crimes where the victim was over 15, and occurring before 1995 would also be beyond limitations,” the report said.
In August 2005, the Aspen Police Department also interviewed Roger Marolt, an Aspen native and columnist for The Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun. Marolt, who remains active with St. Mary Church, said Friday that White had acted inappropriately with him but did not commit sexual abuse. Marolt, however, said he knew of another Aspen parishioner, not Gamblin, who was molested. Making note of that other victim, an Aspen police report said that the man, who was 17 or 18 at the time — 1979-80 — relayed that White grabbed his crotch. That incident took place at the victim’s home while his parents were away. The victim told his parents, who contacted the Denver Archdiocese, which led to White’s assignment to New Mexico.
Marolt wrote about his and his friends’ experiences in the 2005 Aspen Times column, “Time to break the silence.”
“While these things played a role in our survival,” Marolt wrote, “I can’t discount the teenage environment that was prevalent here in Aspen in the late 1970s. We were homophobic. The prevailing schoolyard fear of homosexuality probably protected us. In the end, we will be called to answer for our youthful insensitivity, but back then it helped save us from hell on Earth. There’s nothing comfortable in talking about this.”