Former Episcopal priest sexually abused teen, lawsuit says


July 22, 2022

By Janet Oravetz (9News), Courtney Yuen

The victim said the abuse started in 1995 when he was 16 and occurred at St. Michael & All Angels Church, Camp Ilium, and a cabin near Nederland.

A new lawsuit claims a former priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado sexually abused a teenaged boy.

According to the complaint, the victim identified as John HA Doe, was sexually abused by the Rev. Jerry McKenzie starting in 1995 when the victim was 16. The plaintiff is now in his 40s and does private social services work in the Denver area.

“What we do know is that during the period when this abuse started and continued, that there was an ongoing practice to ignore these types of allegations, to cover them up, to threaten and silence victims, to withhold information from the people who had the ability to protect these children and to basically protect themselves in closed ranks,” said Jessica Arbour, attorney at Horowitz Law.

> VIDEO BELOW: Former Episcopal priest sexually abused teen, lawsuit says

“St. Michael & All Angels repeatedly encouraged the teenage boys of the church to go to spiritual retreats at this cabin and those retreats were run by Reverend McKenzie,” said Arbour.

Arbour said McKenzie had mass and conducted services at St. Michael & All Angels Church in Denver, where the plaintiff was his altar boy. At this time, they’re not sure where McKenzie is or if he’s alive. 

According to the allegations in the lawsuit, McKenzie supplied the boy and his friends with alcohol and other substances as part of the abuse. 

“He would provide the plaintiff and his friends with alcohol and drugs, marijuana, rolling papers, that type of thing, and encouraged them to become intoxicated and making them more vulnerable to abuse that way as well,” said Arbour. 

The victim also alleges there were several types of sexual misconduct with McKenzie, such as over the clothes fondling, stimulation and sexual gratification.

The victim believes there are more victims of McKenzie who will be identified.

“This isn’t just about [the victim], this is about everyone hurt by Rev. McKenzie,” said Arbour. 

RELATED: 87 people file claims of sexual abuse by Colorado catholic priests

“I filed this lawsuit because the Diocese needs to be held accountable for what happened to me and also for the others that McKenzie wronged during the course of his career as a trusted and revered religious figure,” the victim said through his attorneys in a news release.

“The adults who should have been protecting all of us failed us, and justice needs to be served for all of us.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado acknowledged McKenzie was forced to resign his ministry in 2000 following allegations of sexual misconduct, but would not detail the number of claims or when they happened. 

Camp Ilium and St. Michael’s & All Angels Church (Denver) are also named as defendants.

RELATED: Survivors of clergy abuse ask for statute of limitations changes

The lawsuit is believed to be the first filed against the Episcopal Diocese under a new Colorado law that created a temporary window of time for survivors of child sexual abuse to file suit against responsible entities. 

“I think it’s definitely very likely that there will be additional people who come forward and choose to avail themselves of the new law and I hope that they do,” said Arbour. “Every single lawsuit matters. Every single survivor matters. Every single step they can take in their healing process to hold the diocese and those responsible accountable is really important.”

The window remains open until 2024.

RELATED: Report names 43 Colorado Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing at least 166 children since 1950

9NEWS reached out the church and received the following statement.

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado received notice that a complaint was filed by a former member of the church, alleging misconduct by a former priest, Jerry McKenzie. These events appeared to have occurred in the mid-1990s. Mr. McKenzie was forced to resign his ministry many years ago, in 2000, following allegations of sexual misconduct. The allegations of the plaintiff in this case were not brought forward to the diocese at that time, and the diocese only learned of these allegations relatively recently.  

The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado has taken measures to investigate each allegation of abuse against its clergy. In our tradition and expression of Christianity, we recognize that clergy members have a sacred position of trust. Reports of clergy misconduct and abuse are adjudicated according to the Episcopal Church’s Title IV process, and the diocese cooperates fully with all law enforcement investigations of clergy abuse.

It remains our view that by virtue of Baptism, all members of the Church are called to holiness of life and accountability to one another. The Church and each Diocese supports their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation among all involved or affected.

The Episcopal Church’s Title IV process applies to Members of the Clergy, who have by their vows at ordination accepted additional responsibilities and accountability for doctrine, discipline, worship, and obedience. For many years, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado has required all clergy and lay leaders in our diocese to undergo safe church training using a churchwide curriculum that includes the Episcopal Church’s model policies to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

Due to the personal nature of these allegations, and the fact a lawsuit is now filed by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous, we cannot comment further. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those individuals who have been affected by the harm caused by any clergy member who has betrayed that trust to the religious community.