Accused Priest Doesn't Worry Diocese Retiree Has Not Sought to Work, Officials Say

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post
December 23, 2003

The Rev. John 'Jack' Campbell, a Jesuit priest who was moved to Denver 15 years ago after a credible allegation of child sexual abuse against him in St. Louis, never petitioned the Denver archdiocese to work as a priest in Colorado, a necessary step for a religious order priest to do any public ministry, the archdiocese said Monday.

'If Father Campbell did ever act as a priest here, it was without our knowledge or approval,' Denver Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput said via e-mail. 'That would concern us and, I'm sure, his Jesuit superiors, very seriously.'

Over the weekend, a 50-year-old Virginia man who says Campbell abused him more than 30 years ago confronted the retired priest, now 83, at a Jesuit home for senior priests near Regis University. The man, Kevin O'Connor, also distributed bright yellow leaflets warning neighbors that a 'serial molester/predator' lived near them.

O'Connor is one of 13 people who have won settlements from the Jesuits after their claims of abuse against Campbell were found to be credible. No allegations have surfaced from Campbell's time in Denver, according to the Denver archdiocese and the Jesuit order.

Campbell was barred from contact with children and lost some priestly functions in 1987 after an abuse allegation, and was stripped of all public priestly duties in 1993 after more stories emerged, said the Rev. Phil Steele, executive assistant to the provincial, or leader, of the Jesuits of the Missouri Province.

Until Monday, it was unclear whether either Campbell or the Jesuits had asked that he be allowed to function as a priest in Colorado.

It also remains unclear when the Denver archdiocese was informed that an accused abuser was living within its boundaries. Fran Maier, chancellor of the Denver archdiocese, said the archdiocese has no record of Campbell's background.

But that kind of information, he said, would normally only come to light if Campbell had petitioned to perform priestly duties here.

The Jesuits did contact the archdiocese about six weeks ago, after O'Connor's story became public.

Steele said he believes the Denver archdiocese was told of Campbell's history several years ago - under Chaput's predecessor, Francis Stafford - and in 2002, following reforms put in place by the U.S. church in response to the clergy abuse scandal.

Nowadays, Steele said, the Jesuits would alert a diocese immediately: 'In the wake of all the scandals, it's clear we need to be upfront and honest with each other.'

Maier said the Denver archdiocese is satisfied the Jesuits have taken the proper steps with Campbell. He said the fact that Campbell is elderly and under supervision - Steele said Campbell has a pacemaker and never leaves the home unattended - are factors.

'Our main concern is: Does somebody like this pose a practical situation of jeopardy for people in the archdiocese?' Maier said. 'When you look at the circumstances of Father Campbell's case, that is unlikely.'

In the past two years, stories have emerged nationally of dioceses quietly moving problem priests to new assignments, only to have the priests abuse again. Maier said that is not the case with Campbell's relocation to Colorado.

'The change in geography was reinforced by significant community supervision and a lack of priestly faculties,' he said. 'His life fundamentally changed, as was appropriate given the circumstances.'

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the Jesuits should have notified the public and the authorities after the first abuse case. By now, the statute of limitations in any potential criminal case against Campbell has lapsed.

Under changes in Jesuit policy, police would be contacted immediately about abuse in such a case, Steele said. He said police were not notified about Campbell in part because the allegations were brought by grown men, and their stories went back several years.


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