Priest Named in Calif. Lawsuit
The Late Rev. Leonard A. Abercrombie, Who Three Colorado Men Say Molested Them before He Moved to the West Coast, Was Working at a Veterans Hospital

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post
September 13, 2005

A priest of the Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese who ended his career working as a hospital chaplain in Southern California is named in one of the hundreds of clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits clogging California courts.

The suit was filed in 2003 when California temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on child sex- abuse lawsuits. It accuses the Rev. Leonard A. Abercrombie of molesting an altar boy who served Mass at the Los Angeles-area veterans hospital where Abercrombie began working after relocating from Colorado in the 1970s.

The court filing fills in more gaps about claims against Abercrombie, who during his years in Colorado worked in parishes in Denver and small plains towns and as a counselor at a boys' camp. He died in 1994 at age 73.

Three Colorado men - a law-enforcement officer, a retired lawyer and a mental-health official - told The Denver Post last week that Abercrombie molested them before he moved out of state. The men did not tell anyone until many years later.

At least one other allegation was made against Abercrombie in California, according to a 2004 report by the Los Angeles Archdiocese that took the extraordinary step of naming priests accused of molesting children stretching back 74 years.

In the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, an anonymous plaintiff alleges Abercrombie molested him after gaining his parents' trust. The lawsuit targets the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nation's largest, and involves seven other plaintiffs making claims against different priests and one Catholic sister.

The case has been delayed while a settlement is discussed, said one of the plaintiff's attorneys, Anthony DeMarco of Beverly Hills. A hearing is scheduled for Friday.

The man accusing Abercrombie met the priest while regularly serving Mass at the hospital, DeMarco said. He said the abuse took place between 1975 and 1978. DeMarco said Abercrombie's move out of state to a veterans hospital raises questions.

"There were certain posts the church put priests in when they wanted, in some respect, to restrict access to children and families, and a veterans hospital was one of them," DeMarco said. "It is very suspicious just looking at his work history."

Fran Maier, chancellor of the Denver Archdiocese, said he did not know why Abercrombie relocated but probably would not discuss it if he did. The archdiocese has declined to comment on specifics regarding accused priests, citing a policy against discussing personnel matters.

"I'd be really nervous about making an assumption that someone is a chaplain in a hospital because he's got some kind of sexual-misconduct record," Maier said. "It might be a plausible explanation, but there are a dozen other explanations out there."

Abercrombie also served two years in Baker City, Ore. A church official there knew of no allegations against him.

Colorado state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald is considering legislation modeled on California's that would allow child sexual-abuse victims a one-year window to file lawsuits, no matter how old the incident.

Even without that legislative fix, seven lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks against the Denver Archdiocese accusing it of covering up for Harold Robert White, another priest implicated in child sexual abuse. White, 72, is no longer a priest.

Abercrombie's ministerial career

The Rev. Leonard A. Abercrombie's career as a Denver archdiocesan priest:
1946: Ordained, serves briefly at St. Joseph, Golden
1946-1950: St. Francis de Sales, Denver
1950-1953: Air Force chaplain
1953: St. Therese, Aurora
1953-1956: St. Anthony, Hugo
1956-1962: Sacred Heart, Roggen
1962-1964: St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, Baker City, Ore.
1964-1966: All Saints, Denver
1966-1969: St. Peter, Kremmling
1969-1972: Chaplain, St. Anthony Hospital, Denver
1972-1993: Chaplain, Veterans Affairs Research Hospital, Mission Hills, Calif.
1994: Died, Los Angeles

Source: Denver Archdiocese

Staff writer Eric Gorski can be reached at 303-820-1698