Lawsuit Will Claim Church Coverup
The Complaint against the Archdiocese of Denver Is the First since Accusations against an Ex-Priest Surfaced Last Month

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post [Colorado]
August 18, 2005

The godson of former Catholic priest Harold Robert White intends to file a lawsuit today seeking more than $10 million in damages from the Archdiocese of Denver, the first legal volley since child-molestation allegations against White were made public last month.

In a copy of the complaint to be filed in Denver District Court, Delbert C. Nielsen III alleges that the archdiocese knew about abuse claims against White in the 1960s and chose secrecy over protecting children.

"Somebody's got to be accountable for their actions," Nielsen, 52, of Carlsbad, N.M., said Wednesday. "I'm a little upset with the archdiocese and the fact that all they've ever done is sweep it under the carpet and move him from place to place."

Nielsen is among 15 men who have told The Denver Post that White fondled or molested them between the early 1960s and early 1980s. Between his 1960 ordination and 1993, White served in 11 parishes across the state.

The lawsuit, which accuses the archdiocese of negligence and does not name White as a defendant, would need to clear several hurdles, including a likely argument over whether the statute of limitations has expired.

Fran Maier, the chancellor for the 24-county Denver archdiocese, said Wednesday that the archdiocese cannot respond to the lawsuit without seeing it.

"It would be imprudent to say anything until we have the opportunity to see what's being claimed," he said.

Citing personnel policies, the archdiocese has declined to answer specific questions about White, including why he was removed from public ministry in 1993 and laicized, or removed from the priesthood, last year.

Reached in July at his apartment in Denver, the 72-year-old White refused to answer whether he had ever been accused of sexually abusing minors. He has not responded to repeated attempts to reach him for further comment.

Nielsen's lawyer, Miami- based Jeffrey M. Herman, is traveling to Denver to announce the lawsuit at a news conference this afternoon.

"I've handled cases from around the country, and this is one of the worst I've seen in shuffling a pedophile priest from parish to parish," Herman said. "It's horrifying to see what they did with him and how many kids they exposed to him."

The complaint alleges that White won the trust of Nielsen's parents, then molested Nielsen starting in about 1963. Nielsen said in an interview that White fondled him at the priest's family cabin in Grand Lake, telling the boy that it was "the will of God."

"This doesn't have anything to with money, but if that's what it comes down to, fine," Nielsen said Wednesday. "If this could put final closure on it, so be it."

The complaint alleges that after boys and parishioners from White's earlier parish assignments accused White of abuse, the archdiocese hid the allegations to protect White, conceal its own wrongdoing and prevent lawsuits.

"At all relevant times, the archdiocese knew or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known that Father White was unfit, dangerous, and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the minors entrusted to his counsel, care and protection," the complaint says.

In Colorado, the statute of limitations on negligence claims is two years in most cases. Herman said he plans to cite a Colorado law that allows for statutes of limitations to be put on hold if a defendant has fraudulently concealed wrongdoing.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages in excess of $10 million. In the largest settlement to date nationwide, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Ky., agreed to pay $160 million to hundreds of molestation victims of priests and other employees.