Priest Left Boys Town in'88 After Allegations
An Investigation Found No Sexual Abuse by the Rev. Richard Colbert
By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald
July 21, 2003
A priest left Boys Town abruptly in 1988 after an investigation of his inappropriate relationship that involved his touching of a boy.
The Rev. Richard Colbert, who acknowledges that the relationship was inappropriate but not sexual, said the investigation did not involve police or State Child Protective Services. State law requires that anyone with "reasonable cause" to believe a child has been abused must report the suspicion to police or the state.
Former administrators and an attorney for Boys Town said the Rev. Val Peter, executive director then and now, handled the investigation personally and swiftly.
"Like a thunderbolt, it was quick and decisive," attorney James Martin Davis said. "Father Peter threw him out of Boys Town so fast his exit created a sonic boom."
Twelve former employees described the exit in recent interviews as just the opposite - absolutely hushed.
"That guy just disappeared overnight," said Steve Halley, who was a Boys Town police officer at the time and later became police chief. Halley was unaware of any police investigation of Colbert. The Village of Boys Town has its own police department.
Halley recalled that then-Police Chief Robert Allbritton said, "Father Peter says that Father Colbert was called back to his home parish." Allbritton laughed at the explanation, Halley said. Allbritton died in 1993.
Current Boys Town Police Chief Martin Crowley said he could not check whether police had records of the incident without a victim's name. The former Boys Town employees did not know the name. Colbert declined to disclose it.
Four former Boys Town administrators, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the investigation did not follow Boys Town procedures and was not reported to police or the state.
Colbert worked at Boys Town for three years, teaching religion and counseling youths.
Colbert, 61, a priest of the Society of the Precious Blood, is pastor of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Warsaw, Mo. He says his relationship with the boy was not sexual or abusive.
"In my case there was no reason to make a report," he said.
The youth later accused Colbert of sexual abuse, but neither Boys Town nor law enforcement authorities were involved in that investigation, which ended with the youth retracting the accusation, the priest said.
"I got emotionally involved with this person," Colbert said. "I had taken him out to dinner, things like that."
The Boys Town investigation started, Colbert said, after someone saw him touch the boy in his "thigh, rump area" when the youth was a patient at the St. Joseph Center for Mental Health. The boy was dressed, the priest said, and having a seizure. "I was trying to soothe him."
The Boys Town investigation concluded that Colbert did not sexually abuse the youth but that the conduct was inappropriate, according to the priest and the former provincial director of his religious order.
Davis, a Boys Town attorney, did not know details of the investigation and referred questions to the public relations office of Boys Town, which changed its name in 2000 to Girls and Boys Town.
Spokesman John Melingagio released a four-paragraph statement that did not mention Colbert but said in part:
"Hospitals, nursing homes and protective institutions are committed to the health and safety of all patients and clients. At times there are circumstances where it is in the best interest of both the employee and employer to sever the employment relationship - because you want to err on the side of safety and keeping everyone on the straight and narrow. This happens regularly in these institutions and Girls and Boys Town is no exception. Such is the situation of the case in point."
In recent interviews, 12 former Boys Town employees, including several former administrators, recalled Colbert's sudden departure and the hush that surrounded it. None knew all the details. Except for Halley and former religion department Chairman Mike Carotta, the former employees spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A former religion teacher said Carotta called the religion department together and told the teachers: "Father Colbert will no longer be teaching here. And your continued employment will depend on how professionally you handle this."
Carotta, who taught for four years at Boys Town and now lives in Louisville, Ky., recalled Colbert's sudden departure but not the conversation. He said the discussion probably took place in a context of whether it was appropriate to discuss personnel matters in class.
Colbert and the Rev. Mark Miller, former provincial director of the Society of the Precious Blood, said Boys Town, the order and Colbert agreed that the priest should leave.
Colbert said he received a letter from Boys Town that "explicitly stated there was no sexual abuse." He turned the letter over to his provincial director and does not have a copy, he said. Miller said the order would not release the letter.
A few years after Colbert left Boys Town, the youth told his local priest that Colbert sexually abused him. The priest contacted the Precious Blood order. Colbert said the youth withdrew his accusation during the order's investigation.
Miller confirmed that an investigation of Colbert started as a sexual abuse case. "The final conclusion is not sexual misconduct," he said, declining to say more.
Miller said that after sex abuse allegations against priests surfaced across the nation, officials last year reviewed the Colbert case and again decided that the incident did not warrant removal from the ministry.
Colbert has spent the past 15 years as a priest in various Missouri parishes.
Since 2000 he has been pastor at St. Ann's in Warsaw, a resort town of 2,000 people on the shores of Truman Lake, about 80 miles southeast of Kansas City. He is also a pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in nearby Cole Camp. He previously served parishes in Fayette, Russellville and Pilot Grove.
He was assigned to Boys Town from 1985 to 1988. Before that, he served at St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha and at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Nebraska City.
Colbert hopes his case won't be viewed in the light of the Catholic church's sex abuse scandal. "We know a lot more now than we did then, as far as boundaries go," he said.
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