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  Five Religious-Order Priests Accused in Denver since '50s Disclosures Fill Gap in Archdiocese Sex-Abuse Report

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post
March 10, 2004

At least five Roman Catholic religious- order priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors in the Denver Archdiocese over the past five decades, with allegations against three of the priests judged to be credible by their superiors.

Two of the substantiated cases involved the Jesuits, the largest order in Denver, and the other involved a Capuchin. The unfounded allegations were brought against a Jesuit and a Vincentian priest.

That information, provided to The Denver Post in a survey of religious orders that have priests working in the 24-county northern Colorado diocese, provides the most detailed picture yet of the scope of clergy sexual abuse in the state's flagship Catholic diocese. Fourteen of the 15 religious orders in the archdiocese responded to the newspaper's inquiries. Many had compiled the data as part of an unprecedented national canvass of clergy sex abuse dating to 1950.

The disclosures by the religious orders help fill what critics viewed as a serious gap in a report on clergy sex abuse issued Feb. 25 by the Denver Archdiocese.

The diocese announced it could substantiate claims against seven diocesan priests who abused 21 victims since 1950. But the report did not include a tally of abuse within the archdiocese's boundaries by religious-order priests - clerics who report to the superiors of their respective communities rather than the local bishop.

The diocese reasoned that was the orders' responsibility. In the Denver Archdiocese, religious-order priests outnumbered diocesan priests between 1950 and 2003 - 755 to 647.

In late February, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the results of a long-awaited clergy-abuse census compiled by a New York college. The report was based on reports provided by dioceses and some orders.

The devastating totals: 4,392 priests, 4 percent of the U.S. total, were accused of sexually victimizing 10,667 children in the past 53 years.

Cases involving about 6,700 of those minors were substantiated. About 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen had died. About 1,000 claims proved to be unsubstantiated.

The national canvass found that fewer religious-order priests - 2.5 percent - had allegations against them than diocesan priests - 4.3 percent. The Denver Archdiocese did not release the number of diocesan priests accused, only those against whom claims were substantiated.

The Rev. Phil Steele, executive assistant to the provincial of the Jesuits of the Missouri Province, which includes Colorado, confirmed two substantiated abuse claims against Jesuits who formerly served in the Denver Archdiocese.

The Jesuits run Regis University in Denver and Regis High School in Aurora and sent 316 priests and deacons to serve in the archdiocese between 1950 and 2002, far more than any other order.

Steele declined to provide any details about one of the cases, except to say that the priest is no longer in public ministry.

The other case, however, caught the media's notice.

In 2000, the Rev. Patrick O'Liddy, 45, was arrested after sending a lewd picture over the Internet to a 14-year-old Morrison girl.

An investigator posing as the teen set up a meeting with the priest, where he showed up and was arrested. O'Liddy pleaded guilty to felony attempted sexual assault on a minor and was sentenced to 10 years' probation and 200 hours of community service.

O'Liddy is no longer a priest, Steele said.

'He made a horrible mistake,' Steele said. 'He didn't act on what he was intending to do, thank God.' Though there was no physical abuse, the Jesuits still reported the incident as part of the national survey, and it was included in the final report, Steele said.

Another allegation against a Jesuit priest in Denver during the 1960s or 1970s was found not to be credible, Steele said, declining to offer further details.

About 30 years ago, a credible accusation against a Capuchin in Denver led to the priest's immediate removal from public ministry, said the Very Rev. Michael Scully, the order's Denver-based provincial.

Scully said the priest, whom he would not identify, was moved away from Denver and received treatment at a rehabilitation facility.

Scully said more allegations were brought against the same priest, but 'in my judgment, they were false,' he said.

The abuse allegation against the Vincentian priest took place more than 20 years ago, was investigated immediately and found not to be credible, said the Rev. John Kassen, the order's St. Louis-based Midwest provincial.

Kassen said no further action was taken at the request of the alleged victim. He said the accused priest is no longer in ministry in the order's Midwest province and does not live in Colorado.

The Vincentians ran St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, which closed in 1995. There are currently eight or nine Vincentians living in the Denver Archdiocese.

The San Luis-based provincial for the Theatines, an order with priests in a small number of Denver parishes, did not respond to requests for data.

Jack Lavino, co-director of the Colorado chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the religious-order statistics paint a fuller picture, but he doubts the entire story is being told.

'It just seems like a very low number, given the number of priests and the increasing population in Denver, and what's happening in other diocese and other orders,' said Lavino, who like other victim advocates argues the church should release the names of perpetrators.

In addition to the 15 religious orders now in Denver, another half-dozen orders once had priests in Denver but no longer do. Most only had one to three priests in the archdiocese, the archdiocese says.

 
 

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