Former Aspen priest accused of sexual abuse; archdiocese, local police open investigation

Aspen Times [Aspen CO]

September 30, 2021

By Jason Auslander

Parishioners at St. Mary Catholic Church were notified Saturday that a former priest has been accused of sexually abusing a minor between 2004 and 2008, according to the Archdiocese of Denver.

Rev. Michael O’Brien — who left St. Mary in mid-2011 — was immediately placed on administrative leave from his duties as pastor in the eastern Colorado towns of Julesburg and Crook, according to a letter to St. Mary’s parishioners dated Saturday, and an archdiocese spokesman said Wednesday. The allegation was immediately reported to Aspen police according to archdiocese policies meant to ensure transparency with members of the church.

“(Father) O’Brien has resolutely denied these allegations,” according to the letter signed by Vicar General Very Rev. Randy Dollins. “Prior to this, the Archdiocese of Denver has never received an allegation against (Father) O’Brien.”

O’Brien served as pastor at St. Mary in Aspen from May 2002 to June 2011, Mark Haas, archdiocese spokesman, said Wednesday.

The Archdiocese first received the allegation of sexual abuse Sept. 20, Haas said Wednesday in a statement to The Aspen Times. The allegation was reported directly to the archdiocese, Haas said, though he cited privacy concerns and declined to comment further.

Sgt. Rick Magnuson, who heads the Aspen Police Department’s investigation unit, confirmed Wednesday that police were notified of the allegation late last week and that an investigation has begun, though it is still in the early stages. No charges have been filed.

“We’re aware of the allegation,” Magnuson said. “We have an open and active case now.”

Magnuson said the minor who made the allegations against O’Brien is a male, and that the initial report included “dozens” of allegations of sexual abuse over the approximately four-year period. Detectives have not yet spoken with the alleged victim in the case, he said.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has promised “to be transparent with the faithful of the Church of northern Colorado” and announce “initial information to the appropriate parish communities” when allegations like this arise, according to the archdiocese statement Wednesday.

Rev. Dollins’ letter to parishioners was posted Sept. 25 on the St. Mary website across the top of the page that reads “Important Statement from the Archdiocese.”

“The Archdiocese of Denver is committed to the protection of our most vulnerable, especially our children,” Dollins wrote in the letter. “The archdiocese takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and has specific protocols in place to make sure they are handled appropriately for all of the parties involved. Additional information will be communicated when appropriate.”