Pulpit: Did Church Shuffle around Offending Springs Priest?

The Gazette
April 29, 2010

The Catholic Church has been accused of reassigning and covering up the trail of thousands of priests suspected of molestation.

Was this the case with the late Rev. Tom Kloppenborg, a priest within the Diocese of Colorado Springs for nearly 10 years?

While attending a Midwest seminary in the 1970s, Kloppenborg, who at the time was in his early 20s, had a sexual relationship with a boy said to be in his mid-teens. Kloppenborg's report of the incident went into his personnel file. In 2002, church authorities re-discovered his admission and removed him from public ministry. The Kloppenborg incident became one of two credible sex abuse cases that came to light in the Colorado Springs diocese since its founding in 1984 although new accusations have been brought against the Rev. Melvin Thompson, who served locally in the 1970s under the Archdiocese of Denver.

Kloppenborg, part of the Vincentian order, was re-assigned to the Vincentian Residences in St. Louis. In the mid 2000s, he was assigned to the Vincentian-run seminary in Nairobi, Kenya.

Vincentians there work closely with needy children and teenagers, according to the Vincentian website. Pictures on the site credited to Kloppenborg show plenty of male teenaged seminarians.

Sending someone who as a young adult had a same-sex relationship with a boy into a situation of constant contact with boys seems reckless.

The Rev. Mark Pranaitis, assistant provincial of the Vincentians Midwest and Southern provinces, took offense when I asked about Kloppenborg's Kenya assignment. "If you are suggesting the community got around the law of the church and civil law, I would deny that vehemently," he told me.

Here are other curious facts.

In the Catholic directories of 2005 until his death of pancreatic cancer in 2007 at age 56, Kloppenborg's residence is listed as St. Louis when he was clearly in Nairobi.

Kloppenborg's obituary in a Vincentian newsletter makes no mention of his removal from public ministry. The writer was intent on having Kloppenborg's career transition neatly from "faithfully serving" at two parishes within the Springs diocese to being "called" to St. Louis because of his "financial skill" to work as a Vincentian treasurer in St. Louis.

But perhaps all is quite innocent. The Vincentian website is open about Kloppenborg's Nairobi assignment, so perhaps St. Louis remained Kloppenborg's official address. And maybe, as Pranaitis insists, Kloppenborg's obituary was not meant to be a complete accounting of his life.

Michael Ingersoll, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs, was a friend of Kloppenborg for eight years. Ingersoll told me he never saw any signs that Kloppenborg was attracted to boys.

No criminal or civil suits have been filed against Kloppenborg.

If Kloppenborg had been in an institution with a mostly clean record on transparency, he'd deserve the benefit of the doubt. But given the worldwide allegations of cover up by Catholic priests and bishops, that's no longer so easy to do.

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