At least 11 priests accused of sexually abusing children in Colorado report are still alive
By Elise Schmelzer
November 4, 2019
One Colorado priest left the church after allegations he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old and went on to work as a U.S. Veterans Affairs therapist and a wellness director tasked with leading a children’s club at a Trinidad nonprofit. Another priest, after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a minor, became a counselor to drug users before finding a new religious group to lead.
At least 11 of the 44 men named as predators in a report published Oct. 22 on clergy sexual abuse in Colorado’s Catholic dioceses are still alive. After leaving or being forced from the priesthood, some men became social workers, religious leaders and counselors. Others who remain priests are now retired and live in Denver and Pueblo.
At least three of the priests’ whereabouts are unknown — it’s not even clear if they’re alive. The Diocese of Pueblo does not know where Clifford Norman or Lawrence Sievers are, a spokeswoman said. Norman left the diocese in 1975 and moved to Mexico, and Sievers left the priesthood in 1973. Similarly, the Diocese of Colorado Springs does not know where William Martinez lives or whether he is alive. Martinez permanently left the priesthood in 2004.
The Colorado dioceses do not actively track the location and activities of priests named in the report, representatives of the three dioceses said. Those abused by the priests often did not report their assaults until decades later and the dioceses often did not report the allegations to law enforcement. As priests moved locations or left the church, they faded from the dioceses’ radars.
But the church’s critics say it should do a better job of tracking accused priests.
“They’re like minefields out there,” said Jeb Barrett, leader of the Colorado chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We don’t know where they are, if they’ve changed their names.”
Barrett said the church should take responsibility. “After all, they produced them and covered them up.”
The Denver Post attempted to contact all the living priests. While many did not return phone calls, one priest said he didn’t know he would be named in the report until after it published.
Father Gary Kennedy retired from the Diocese of Pueblo in 2011 but still worked until recently as a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Kennedy was accused in September of grinding his genitals against altar servers at a Montrose church while “wrestling” with them after Mass in the late 1960s. The retired priest still lives in Pueblo and said in an interview with The Post that he did not know he would be named in the report. He said he had not yet been interviewed by the diocese about the allegations, which he denied.
“It’s been very hurtful and harmful,” Kennedy said.
The Pueblo Diocese reported the allegation to police and suspended Kennedy’s priestly faculties, meaning he can no longer perform Mass and other sacraments, while the allegation is investigated, according to the report. Investigators could not speak with Kennedy before the report because of the priest’s health, the report states. Kennedy said he recently underwent spinal surgery and was still recovering.
“There’s an injustice there with protocol and process, that’s all I can say,” he said.
Here are the whereabouts of the priests named in the report who are still alive, according to public records, news reports, social media and diocesan information:
Leo Bonfadini — Resides in Denver. Bonfadini voluntarily left the priesthood in 1995 after a teenager the year prior said the priest sexually abused him. The church required Bonfadini to attended counseling and put him under strict supervision after the report, but did not report the allegation to police, according to the report. After leaving the priesthood, Bonfadini worked as an officer for the U.S. Air Force and as a counselor in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. He later joined Mr. Carmel Wellness and Community Center, a nonprofit in Trinidad, as a wellness coordinator and pastoral counselor charged with caring for the elderly and starting a children’s gardening club, according to a 2013 news release from the nonprofit. Bonfadini denied the allegations in the report in an interview with The Pueblo Chieftain.
Charles Brown — Resides in Albuquerque. He transferred from the Denver archdiocese in 1970 to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, from which he retired in 2002. Officials there recently removed his ability to perform mass and other sacraments when they learned of the allegations included in the Colorado report, according to a Santa Fe archdiocese spokeswoman. In 2005, a man accused Brown, now 87, of abusing him from 1962 to 1966.
Rafael Jairo Calle — Returned to Ecuador after allegations against him surfaced in 1997, according to the Archdiocese of Denver.
Michael Descoise — Lives in Denver. Descoise retired in 2012 and the Archdiocese of Denver suspended his faculties in 2016 after he admitted to sexual acts with adults. The archdiocese then restored his priestly duties in 2017 after Desciose attended counseling, but suspended them again in 2018 after a report that he sexually abused a minor in the late 1980s. He denied the allegations against him in the report when asked about them by a 9News reporter.
Timothy Evans — Incarcerated at the Fremont Correctional Facility in Cañon City. A Fort Collins jury convicted him in 2007 of three counts of sexual assault of a child by a person in a position of trust. He became eligible for parole in 2018 and his next parole hearing is slated for December, according to the Department of Corrections.
William Groves — Works as administrator for a religious group in Franklin, North Carolina. He gave a talk in September titled “Healing our Wounded Masculinity,” according to the group’s newsletter. A previous issue of the newsletter identified him as a former Catholic priest and the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has previously linked him to the Spiritual Light Center, the North Carolina religious group. He also worked as a chaplain at an Oklahoma drug rehabilitation center after being removed from the church. Groves was laicized — formally removed from the priesthood — after he pleaded guilty in 1990 to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy. Groves received a sentence of four years of probation.
Neil Hewitt — Lives in Arizona with his wife, according to a 9News story. He left the priesthood in 1979, before allegations that he sexually abused multiple children in the 1960s became public in 1992. Hewitt admitted to seven of the eight allegations in interviews with investigators, according to the report.
Gary Kennedy — Retired in Pueblo.
Robert Whipkey — A relative reached by phone said the former priest now lives in Longmont, which public records confirm. Whipkey was reported in 1998 for walking naked during a cabin trip with a group of sixth grade boys. After therapy, the church returned him to ministry. Whipkey was removed from ministry in 2007, the same year he was arrested for jogging nude in Frederick. He later pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and sentenced to five years of probation.
Thomas Woerth — Retired from Archdiocese of Denver in 2005 and now lives out of state, according to the archdiocese. As recently as 2018, Woerth was listed in the archdiocese’s directory with a Denver address. He was accused in March 2019 of abusing a high school boy in the early 1970s, according to the report. Public records show he now lists his address as a retirement home in Florida.
The Denver Post could not confirm the location of Leonard Scezney, though the Archdiocese of Denver said he is alive. According to the report, a woman said in 2007 that Scezney fondled her multiple times in 1985 when she was a teenager.