Priest Denies Ex-Parishioner's Claim of Sex Assaults in '80s
Rev. Gourley 'Eager for the Truth to Be Known'

By John C. Ensslin and Jaxon Van Derbeken
Rocky Mountain News
September 10, 1997

The Rev. Marshall Gourley Tuesday denied a former parishioner's allegations that the popular Denver priest molested him 13 years ago.

''I want to say clearly that the allegations made by Mr. Ayon and his lawyers are not truthful,'' Gourley said in a brief statement released by Our Lady Of Guadalupe Church, where he is pastor.

''I will defend myself vigorously against these accusations and am eager for the truth to be known.''

John Dean Ayon, a 32-year-old former tax accountant from Littleton now living in San Diego, raised the allegation in a federal lawsuit filed this week against Gourley and the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. He accused Gourley of molesting him from June 1981 to June 1984. He seeks $20 million.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput called the allegations against the church ''without merit'' and denied Ayon's claims that the church failed to heed his complaints.

''If what Mr. Ayon is saying is true, his suffering should shame us all and I am deeply sorry for his suffering,'' Chaput said.

''Let's remember that Father Marshall Gourley is also suffering and so is his parish. He is a priest who is loved by thousands of people in our community and for very good reasons.''

Chaput disputed claims by Ayon's lawyers that their client made several attempts to raise his allegations with church authorities before filing his lawsuit.

''To suggest that we ignore contact from any alleged victim of abuse is simply and frankly a falsehood,'' Chaput said.

But later, archdiocese spokesman Greg Kail acknowledged that a man who identified himself only as ''Michael'' called Monsignor Walker Nickless several weeks ago. The caller accused Gourley of sexually abusing him as a teen-ager. Walker urged the man to put his allegation in writing.

''The man agreed to do so, however, he did not live up to those promises,'' Kail said. Nickless was still trying to contact the man when the lawsuit was filed, Kail said.

Ayon's lawyer gave a different account.

''Mr. Ayon had contacted the diocese,'' Windle Turley said. ''He had eight conversations with someone at the diocese . . . It ranged from secretaries to a monsignor.

''The bottom line was, they said, 'We want you to sit down and talk to another priest.' But that particular priest, John Ayon knew and understood that he sexually abused another member of his family.''

Ayon refused to talk to the person, Turley said.''But, the church insisted instead of letting somebody else talk to him.''

Ayon's complaint will be forwarded to the provincial head of Gourley's order, the Theatines, for investigation.

Turley described Ayon as a Harvard Law School graduate who does pro-bono legal work with the poor in San Diego.

The suit filed Tuesday is not the first time Ayon has sought to right a perceived wrong in U.S. District Court in Denver.

In 1995, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against his former employer KPMG Peat Marwick and several co-workers. The suit was eventually settled.

Ayon worked for the firm from February 1992 until March 1994 as a senior tax specialist in its Denver office.

His suit described a series of incidents in which co-workers made ethnic slurs and racial jokes. The alleged harassment led Ayon to resign his job and attempt suicide, the suit said.


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