December 25, 2020
By Hannah Metzger
As recent sexual abuse allegations have risen against Catholic Priest Rev. Charles Woodrich, one organization Woodrich helped found hopes to continue its work and separate itself from his disgraced legacy.
Denver’s Samaritan House, co-founded by Woodrich in 1986, was the first building in America designed specifically as a homeless shelter. Still operating today, the Samaritan House now serves thousands of men, women and children in the Denver metro community.
“The founding and the ongoing charitable work of Samaritan House is not the result of a single person,” said the Samaritan House regarding Woodrich, “but rather from the efforts of many visionaries, political leaders, co-founders and benefactors with a deep compassion and concern for the poor and those in need in our community.”
Woodrich, more commonly referred to as Father Woody, was known as a patron to the homeless when he helped found the Samaritan House in 1986 and up until his death in 1991.
However, authorities say that at the time of the shelter’s founding, Woodrich was in the middle of the years-long sexual abuse of his last known victim.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office released a report identifying nine Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, including Woodrich.
Three victims were included in the report, describing sexual abuse from Woodrich in the 1970s and 1980s. Two of the victims were altar servers and the third was a parishioner. Of the nine newly identified priests, Woodrich is accused of committing the most known abuses.
The first victim was abused monthly for six years beginning in 1983 when Woodrich was serving at Denver’s Holy Ghost Parish. The second victim was abused in 1976 and the third victim in 1978.
“Our hearts go out to the victims of past abuse,” the Samaritan House said. “We hope for healing and that a measure of peace will be found through the Archdiocese of Denver and the Colorado Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program.”
In response to the news about its co-founder, the organization said it will continue its work to try and help those in need in the Denver community.
“(Our) mission will carry on,” the Samaritan House said. “The spirit of charity is as strong as ever.”
Release of abuse allegations reshapes legacy of Denver’s Father Woody
During the last fiscal year, the Samaritan House provided 60,219 nights of shelter for men, women and children experiencing homelessness. It also gave nearly 400,000 meals to shelter participants and children at education centers. In 2019, the Samaritan House housed over 1,400 people.
According to the organization, the Samaritan House supplies nearly 25% of Denver’s shelter housing available to families.
The organization said its ultimate goal is to provide for those experiencing homelessness while helping to assure that they do not face homelessness again.
The Samaritan House provides services to its residents including job assistance, housing referrals, money management and case management. Residents can stay in the shelter for up to four months straight, receiving clothing and toiletries in addition to meals and beds.
Upon completing the Samaritan House program, 92% of single residents and families have income, 64% of single residents have housing and 62% of families have housing.
To prevent affiliation with any other dangerous individuals, the Samaritan House, as part of Catholic Charities of Denver, continues to follow the policies and procedures set by the Archdiocese of Denver.
The Archdiocese of Denver, which has promised to address sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, provided the Attorney General’s Office with full access to 70 years of files concerning the sexual abuse of minors by priests and access to interview victims, priests and witnesses for the report.
The Archdiocese of Denver said in a statement that it has removed the names of all accused priests — including Woodrich — “from any honorary designation including buildings, facilities, and programs.”
Haven of Hope, another Denver homeless shelter founded by Woodrich, has also cut ties, removing all mention of Woodrich from its website and legally changing its name from “Father Woody’s Haven of Hope” in June.
Last year, the Archdiocese of Denver started a reparations fund for victims of sexual assault within the church.
“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. “And while money can’t heal wounds, it can acknowledge the evil that was done and help restore peace and dignity to the survivors.”
The fund is available online at promise.archden.org/reparations.
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