3 More Clergy Lawsuits Are Filed
Archdiocese Sued over Sex Abuse. The Cases Include What Is Thought to Be the First in the State Involving the Late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post
September 21, 2005

The Denver Roman Catholic Archdiocese, already the target of numerous lawsuits for its handling of a priest accused of molesting children decades ago, was sued again Tuesday, this time by a 46-year-old law enforcement officer bringing accusations against another priest.

Roger Colburn of Strasburg alleges in a Denver District Court complaint that the late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie, a trusted family friend, got him drunk and molested him in 1969 or 1970 while camping in Granby when Colburn was 10 or 11.

Roger Colburn is filing suit against the Denver Archdiocese, alleging abuse by the late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie. (Post / Will Singleton)

The lawsuit, without offering details, alleges the abuse took place after the Denver Archdiocese had fielded other complaints against Abercrombie.

The complaint is thought to be the first in Colorado naming Abercrombie, who died in 1994 in Southern California, where he retired. Three men, including Colburn, told The Denver Post this month that Abercrombie had sexually abused them.

He also is accused of molesting two children in Southern California, where he moved in the 1970s for unexplained reasons to work as a hospital chaplain.

In addition, two other lawsuits were filed Tuesday against the Denver Archdiocese involving the Rev. Harold Robert White. That brings to nine the number of lawsuits involving the 72- year-old White, who was defrocked last year by the Vatican for unknown reasons.

One plaintiff, a John Doe, claims he was 21 when White sexually assaulted him in a room the man had rented at a Minturn parish rectory. The other plaintiff, Pat Hergenreter of Sterling, alleges White molested him in a church sacristy.

White, in a TV interview, described the allegations against him as "half-truths."

In two months, the Denver Archdiocese has gone from largely avoiding the scandal of abuse and coverup that has plagued other U.S. Catholic dioceses to facing the kind of financial threat that has paralyzed dioceses in Boston, Tucson, Portland, Ore., and elsewhere.

Fran Maier, chancellor of the archdiocese, reiterated the message that anyone victimized should contact the archdiocese.

"We are very concerned about anyone who has been hurt and will address that," Maier said, adding that he won't discuss individual allegations in the media.

Jeff Herman, the Miami lawyer who brought Tuesday's three lawsuits, said the Denver Archdiocese has said it will try to move the lawsuits from state to federal court.

He speculated that it would be easier for the archdiocese to argue for dismissal in federal court.

In a court filing last week, the archdiocese alluded to a potential consolidation of the lawsuits and "resolving which forum is appropriate for these matters."

Maier declined to discuss the potential change in venue but said Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput has offered plaintiffs a chance to discuss their experiences with the archdiocese.


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